Say Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New name for an old friend

Hi all and thank you for checking in. It’s been a whirlwind past few months here at PlusRunner and in the mix of things, someone (ahem) forgot to renew her domain name for the sight. As a result, we have a new address (www.plusrunners.com) that should take you to all of the best content and hopefully the new stuff we’ve yet to write.

To usher in the summer of 2014 I’m also looking for guest blog sites from friends and followers who’ve done great things to get running and moving in 2014. Do you have a story to tell? A great piece of gear to discuss? A training program you love? Drop me a note and we’ll get you writing.

See you on the path!

Thankful

ImageFull of thanks.  That’s the season that’s come upon us (as Americans) and it’s one that never seems to get old.  Everywhere we turn, there’s an uptick in the spirit of the holidays, the chance to spend time with family and friends, and the feeling that comes from the comfort of a cool breeze met with layers of down. 

I love this season, when typically, as a large runner, I find it easier going.  The wind cools me down on long runs, and while others struggle with the temperatures, I used to grudgingly but proudly layer up and go out for 5, 6, or 10 miles with friends.  

Looking back on the last ten years, I am amazed to find that the vast majority of my Saturday mornings were spent with good friends, running in weather that most people found inhumane.  Dark, windy mornings on Chicago’s lakefront are nothing to take lightly, and we didn’t.  We wore our warm tights, our ear warmers, our winter socks, and our windproof jackets.  We started our run right from the store – no casual warm-up for the first half mile on those mornings. 

And we caught up.  We found out who’d had dates.  Who was behind in their Thursday night TV.  We knew about the terrible bosses, the sick mothers, the holiday drama, and the one night stands.  We knew too, that it was always better with our friends, this group of warriors, who hung onto Saturdays like the lifeline they always were. 

Many of us have moved on to other cities, other races, other sports, other lives.  It’s fair to say that Saturday mornings aren’t quite the same – but somehow, no matter when I lace up, I feel the presence of the people who run, no matter where they land – Karachi or South Beach, London or Indy, West Loop or Washington.  

So in this season of thanks, I add mine to the runners who inspired me to get moving, keep moving, and miss moving.   I’ll see you again soon.

Reader Q&A: Start me up…

From the first 5k to the Olympic track – it’s safe to say I had no idea when I started that running would become so important to my life!

It’s been a great month for questions, and I thought I’d take the chance to pluck one from our Q&A page (thanks, Wendie!) and answer it for today’s blog.

“I would like to know what it was like for you when you started running – what kept you motivated and how you worked through feelings of being bored (if you get bored) while running. I would like to know what your original running plan was, the pace you worked through it and how long it took you to get to your first race.”

Thanks for the question, Wendie.  When I read it, I was out of breath, just thinking about what it was like! I think what started me running (regularly) was a feeling that I wanted to be able to keep up with a new group of friends i had found.  They were playing softball, and football, and ultimate frisbee, and I was a recovering law student who literally couldn’t stay vertical on a softball field while chasing a slow grounder to center.

I talked to one friend, then another, then another, and we agreed to train for a 5k about 10 weeks out.  I was helped immensely by running with a kind, patient, incredibly awesome friend who had been running for awhile – Kristin found a 5k training program for us, and, running with three of my friends, we took to the streets 3 days a week (at a minimum).

I won’t lie.  I sucked wind for those 10 weeks.  We built up the way the program said we should, but my friends were lighter than me, and they just didn’t have to work so hard.  But they went slowly (for me) and ran with me the whole time.  They were amazing.  And the biggest gift they gave me was to carry the conversational weight while we ran – distracting me from the distance and keeping me entertained.  With only 1 or 2 miles to go every time we went out, I eventually was able to talk a bit too.  That felt good.

Staying motivated was easier with a race in mind – we paid early, and a few weeks in, we recruited even more friends to join us.  Suddenly, we were meeting one night a week (I think it was only one), 7 or 8 of us (most who had never, ever considered doing this) traipsing around North Center in Chicago in a simple grid pattern, knocking out our miles and having a ball.  Yes, I was generally at the back – but no one ever got left behind.

So, I would say that thanks to friends, there really wasn’t much chance to be bored.  That, plus I had quite a bit going on in my life, means that I really enjoyed the time to think. And, a nice side effect of running was that I was getting to know Chicago’s neighborhoods – something i hadn’t spent a lot of time to do.  I loved to check out the view from the sidewalk – looking two stories up to check out the different crown work on the buildings I passed.  I find even today, I have the same approach – keeping my eyes towards the horizon to see what’s out there…

And as for training plans and pace, I have a note out to one of my old friends, asking her to confirm – but my recollection is that we used a light, building up training plan – we built up very slowly, going from 1/2 mile and up in minor increments, over 10-12 weeks.  And to the best of my recollection, we didn’t run/walk – we just ran, flat out.

As for pacing, I started running at 245 pounds, and I think by the time I was doing our race, I was down to about 220 (I’m 5’9″).  I was running with faster people – so most of my training runs were “4” on an effort scale of 1-5, with “5” being all out – not the way I’d train today, to be sure.  That said, it made me faster, and I ran about a 13:30 pace for that race and the others that year.

As for training plans, there’s a lot of options out there, but I would recommend anything from coach Jenny Hadfield; you can also purchase the plans via Walk Jog Run as an app for the iPhone for only $4.99. And there are loads of free plans out there – lots of people like Couch to 5k (commonly known as C25k) – my friend Scott just finished his race using that plan – and one other option is to take something that you know is a healthy plan to get there, too – presumably, something like this one from Girls on the Run St. Louis might work (though I worry it’s only 6 weeks!).

In my experience, stretching it out to 10-12 weeks is safer, and helps you avoid the shin splint problem you’re having.  Your body needs time to recover on this stuff – and a serious increase in mileage (more than 10% per week) puts you in prime spot for trouble.  So stretch it out if you can.

All of that aside, race day was pretty cool. And today, 13 years later, I can still picture in my mind, those fun training runs (and the side stitches, and the sweating, and the lack of O2!) with my friends.  They’re cherished memories for me – and to the extent you can add some humans to your journey, they’re the best motivators you can find.

Good luck and keep us posted on the journey!

Sallie

Just a few words

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

10 Reasons to Suck It Up and Cycle to Work Tomorrow

The ruins will not be on tomorrow's route.

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

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

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

8. The Thames.

7. Westminster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 in review

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the path….

 

The quiet return

I was out running on Sunday.

Yep. Just stop, for a moment, and savor with me the awesomeness of that statement.

Can you feel it?

There was a little flutter as I started that old routine. Capris. Shirt. Hat? No hat. Favorite socks. Those new running shoes I bought in July? Yep. Time to bust them out. Double knot. Where’s my ID? Cash? Keys? Lock it up. Start the timer. Five minute warm-up, walking up the hill.

Those people on the street don’t know how long it’s been. They can’t see the ten years I ran before ever getting hurt. And the two years of slogging and fixing to get back. Chin up, girl. Chin up. Rounding the corner by the tube, and it’s gorgeous. There are fall leaves just waiting to swirl around my steps. Okay, so it’s a six minute warmup. I’m waiting for the path.

And then I’m across the road, and I want to run, but I’m smart. Two years of an empathetic but instructional running doc and physio – two years with guys who taught me smart rehab – and 8 years of time with great running coaches, and I know enough to start this one on a walk. So I walk. There’s soft, just barely wet ground under my feet. A well-worn running path circles Clapham Common and it’s kindly telling me to take my time. Step where I want. There’s no crown to manage, no branches to avoid.

And then, that little magic watch does its thing. And I’m running again. Only two minutes to start. The stride is the same – or is it? Step lighter? Maybe a little. Maybe it’s the 25 pounds gone that makes it seem simpler. But it’s cautious too. Roll through the toe, push off. But pace the breathing, just like old times – breathe in in time with each step – one, two three (in, in, in), one two (out, out)…wondering now how I have the stamina even for that, having not seen a run in 9 months. How is that possible?

And then it’s merciful beeping. Turns out, just as challenging as it should be. The common is busy with people getting yelled at – by soccer coaches, by parents, by drill-camp instructors who make me, just for a moment, miss my running coaches. I round through the gazebo, checking my watch (I’m running again) and head for home. After all, there’s only 30 minutes on today, with 5 warm up and 5 cool down. I resist the urge to beat up on myself. It’s 30 minutes more than I’ve done in a long time.

I motor back through the park towards the tube. It’s thinking about raining now, but I don’t care. I have a red face, and that hair that’s always in my eyes – but hasn’t been a problem for awhile (because how bad is it when you’re sitting still?) is suddenly real annoying.

I trek home, stopping for water. As I turn into my apartment and stop for a stretch, my watch keeps beeping. For the next 20 minutes, as I putter and putz, it beeps at me, every 3 – then every two minutes. It’s a quiet, but insistent reminder of the celebration a long time coming.

I turn off the watch, and think for a minute of the countless weekends I’ve spent in the last ten years, doing just this. Sailing through a park on heavy feet – but with some of the best friends I could ask for. I miss them today, but today life is uncomplicated and happy. I ran. It didn’t hurt. I’ll do it again.

Sometimes, the simple joy in grasping that one thing just out of reach is more powerful than anything you could have imagined.

See you on the path.

Endurance for Life

Just a quick update here on a late Tuesday in London. How are you all doing out there in training land? Are you counting down to your next race? Getting in lots of miles on your bikes? I hope you’re dealing with the heat of the States with a return to the pool – and being smart, too…

Here in London, it’s been a busy week. Last Monday I successfully navigated the ride to the office on my bike without getting killed (and only getting lost twice). Wednesday I took off for Sweden for work, and spent the weekend exploring beautiful Stockholm.

I must say that Stockholm was gorgeous – water everywhere and an incredible looking city – but the golf course we played on Saturday took the cake.

You might recall that in my former life, I played a bit of golf. In fact, I played a lot for awhile, until training took up my Saturdays. But lately, I’ve been off the course. So the chance to play in Sweden sounded super cool.

And play we did. I managed to hit the first few drives nice and straight, and even hit my irons well. And then, disaster! I realized rather quickly that the last time i had walked 18 holes, I was very poor and in much better shape. By the fifth hole, I was gasping to keep up with the boys (one of whom has about 8 inches on me, the other who rides his bike to and from work every day.) I was definitely behind.

And that was an okay thing. As my colleague pointed out, it was a great way to spend a Saturday – walking around a course, getting actual exercise, and having a good time. I wasn’t hitting the ball well, but I was sweating, and for the first time in awhile, I could actually claim that golf was a workout!!!

Saturday morning I was up early to explore the city – and by early, I mean “five hours after the sun came up” – I left the hotel at 9. And in a good 90 minutes, I walked about four miles, took dozens of photos, and worked up another good sweat – are you sensing a trend?

So, aside from the fact that I spent my weekend sweating through Sweden, I can honestly say it was what I needed – the chance to explore and enjoy it, and to remember that as always, anywhere new is best seen on foot (or, at worst, by boat!)

Here’s to exploring weeks, wherever you are!!!