The Six Week Draught

My husband and I had a glorious running day six weeks ago. We left the house early Saturday morning and took off running. We went our usual way but added some on before turning back. We kept pushing and pushing – never stopped, never walked. As Forrest Gump would say, we just ran.

When we returned to a walk as we passed the threshold of our driveway, we gave each other a high five. We had logged over 8 miles in under an hour and a half. My legs were like jelly and kept propelling me forward as if I should keep running. I was fired up. It was glorious.

We fell off the exercise bandwagon the very next day. We didn’t realize it at the time, of course. We skipped running Sunday morning, not that uncommon the day after a big run. But then Monday morning, we didn’t get up early enough to exercise before my husband had to take our daughter to band. I still got on the elliptical – for a paltry 20 minutes.

I skipped the next day, but that didn’t set off any warning bells. Wednesday, I put in 25 minutes on the treadmill. Skipped Thursday too but that’s ok. We’re doing fine, I told myself. Friday morning didn’t work out either but we packed all of our stuff with us to run at my mom’s house the next day.

Of course, we didn’t get to her house until very late. And my husband forgot his C-PAP, which means I didn’t sleep well. And then we realized he’d forgotten his running shoes. That’s ok, I told myself – and him. It’s not like we have to run outside every Saturday.

It would be 8 days after my last short treadmill effort before I’d put in a simple 15 minutes on the elliptical. And then another 6 before getting on the treadmill. I had about a week of working out almost every other day but they were all short. The two Saturdays after the botched attempt at my mom’s house fell by the wayside too. One, we weren’t sure when the sun would come up. I can’t even remember now the excuse for the next one.

Four weeks after the great and mighty eight mile run, my husband had training to go to at 9 am. We decided there wasn’t time to run before, but that’s ok – we’d go Sunday morning. I took the boys to the park and ran around the sidewalk there – about 30 minutes. I could already tell I wasn’t the same person that had run the 8 miles. We cuddled Sunday morning instead of running.

The weekend after that was birthday weekend – we had family in town and lots to do. No running then. By then, the week days had been lost completely to early morning band and our general fatigue and disinterest. The Monday after birthday weekend, I forced myself to dress out for exercise. I got on the treadmill and felt a strong distaste. I did not want to be there. I pulled off a whopping 10 minutes on the elliptical instead before deciding I needed to get ready for work.

“I’m working on presence and motivation,” I told my husband. “I just have to be there. Today was 10 minutes. I’ll try to make tomorrow 15 and then I’ll build from there.”

Well… I got 15 minutes the next day, but by Wednesday, other priorities took over and I was lost to exercise again.

By that Saturday, the six week anniversary of the now legendary mammoth run, I felt that something had been lost. Maybe for good. How would I get my groove back? My husband left early for a meeting out of town. I dragged out of bed about 11:15. The kids were equally lethargic.Surely the laundry was more important than exercise? Surely?

The music I played while doing the laundry gave me some energy. I decided to work out after lunch. I changed into my running clothes and got on the treadmill. I was miserable. I felt like the blank monitor in front of me was mocking me and way, way too close. It felt hot and muggy. I couldn’t imagine running for half an hour like I planned. I urged myself to make 5 minutes.

But then something strange started happening. My mind kept wandering outdoors. I wanted to turn and run out the front door and run down the street on our usual route. But… but… he wasn’t with me. Was it safe? We’d never run outside without the other. I tried to stay put. But when I hit that 5 minute mark, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I stepped off the treadmill and trotted to the door. I called out, “I’ll be back in a bit!” to my daughter and then I was off!

It had been raining for days. It was cold and misty outside. The wind was blowing. It was incredible. Raindrops hit my glasses but I didn’t care. I wondered if my phone, providing the driving electronic cardio music to my ear, would survive if a deluge started before I got back home. I decided it was a risk worth taking. I ran and ran and ran. Not long – not far. Maybe two miles – at the most. But I felt alive.

It’s so easy to fall off bandwagons. It’s quite frankly kind of scary how easy it is to adjust to life without something that had previously been so important to you – kind of like my frequent blogging breaks. But I learned that cool Saturday morning that I truly am a runner. Not just someone who exercises via jogging. I actually enjoy running. Outside. I’m fired up to run again. We shall see if I’m truly and securely seated in the wagon or if I’m just running along beside it, trying to hang on.

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Was Blind But Now I See

New converts are the most fervent believers. And the most obnoxious to non-believers. This is true for new converts to anything. It doesn’t matter if they are new Christians or new Atheists, new CrossFit adherents or new Sherlock viewers, new budgeters or new iPhone purchasers. If they have recently fallen in love with some new thing that has rocked their world, they desperately want you to as well.

It’s like John Newton wrote in “Amazing Grace”:

I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

New converts’ eyes have been opened to what they were missing and they can’t believe that you are still missing out too.  Try to extend a little grace while they wax poetic. Please? Because… I’m about to engage in a bit of that myself.

An analogy. I got glasses for the first time right before Christmas. I stuck them on my face and wore them all day long. We had some friends and family over that day who (ironically) all wear glasses. Every single one of them. Near the end of the day, I took off my glasses. And was blown away. I couldn’t believe it. I was blind!

Not quite, but it felt like it. My vision, as far as I was concerned, had been fine. For the last several years, my right eye was 20/20 and my left about 20/40. The left was slipping and this most recent exam, the nurse was generous to call it 20/50. Not bad – especially not compared to the other folks at my dinner table that day. But worthy of correction (especially if I were to have any hope of renewing my driver’s license).

Still, nothing had looked blurry or dark before. Nothing was difficult to read. All was right with the world. Until I spent a day wearing those glasses. Then a return to my old view was disturbing. So, first off, I wasn’t seeing nearly as well as I thought I was. And second, my eyes were having to work so incredibly hard to see what I was seeing.

That’s the way it is with lifestyle changes too. You tend to not realize how bad you have it until that “have” becomes a “had”. That happened with us both with finances and fitness. We knew we had problems but we didn’t know a) how bad it was and b) how much it was affecting us. Now we do.

My husband is a big man. He’s about 6’2″ tall and has weighed between 220 and 270 pounds for the last 15 years or so – most of that closer to the heavier end. He’s strong though – lean muscular legs and thick arms. All muscle. Or so we thought. Then he started losing weight. Now I see what lean muscular legs actually look like. And now I know that there actually was a pretty good layer of fat over those biceps.

The doctor even tried to cut him some slack as a big guy. She still does. She claims it’s not reasonable to expect him to get down into the healthy BMI range. She was going to be happy at 240 and ecstatic at 220. Now he’s targeting 200 for the end of the year. We formed our opinions on how he looked before. Now we see a different future.

We’ve also learned he’s not nearly as warm-natured as we thought. He still is, but now he gets cold. He’s wearing a sleep shirt to bed and bundling up with a heavy coat and scarf when he goes out. He lost all his insulation. And he’s ok with that. The trade-off has been worth it.

We are both in better shape now. We can see the definition in our muscles. We don’t tire as easily. Even little things – like rising from the toilet. I can hover as long as I need to in order to take care of toilet paper duty. If I forget something in my car, I can literally run out to it and not be out of breath.

My brother, in response to a medical emergency, recently quit drinking soft drinks. He just commented to me how much better he feels. And how he didn’t even realize how bad he felt before.

You see, that’s the key. I look around and I just want to scream to everyone I see: YOU COULD FEEL SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW!! But, of course, I don’t. I just watch them chug their soft drink, or listen to them breathe heavily at their desk several minutes after climbing the stairs, or watch them rock back and forth in order to lift their legs to walk, or watch them lumber over to the handicap ramp because the two steps directly in front of them are insurmountable. I’ve even watched a couple of people lean against the wall and take a break during their walk in from the parking lot at work.

I’m looking at them differently now. It’s not a position of judgement and I sincerely hope it doesn’t sound like one. It’s not quite a position of pity either. I just look at them and know that I’ve discovered a secret that they haven’t yet. And I feel a little sad for them. Because while many of them are much worse off than I’ve ever been, I still know part of their problem because I’ve been there too. They just don’t know how bad they feel nor how much better they could feel if they made some changes.

My conversation with my brother yesterday caused me to turn that sad look back on myself. I might feel better than I used to but I bet I still don’t feel as good as I could. I already stopped drinking sodas for the most part, but now I’m planning to replace my caffeinated, sugar-substitute, chemical laced flavored water with simple black tea. I can’t (yet) get through my workday without caffeine, but I’m curious to see how much better I’ll feel without the junk I used to use.

I can’t tell you what in your life is keeping you from feeling better. But I can tell you that it’s there. I hope you’ll take some time this year to look for it.

2014: Our Year In Review

Looking back, I think 2014 was a pivotal year for my husband and me. It didn’t start out all that special but by mid year, big changes were afoot. Which is an interesting point, by the way. We like to break up our world according to the calendar year but life doesn’t really care about our artificial time boundaries. It just rolls along. No need to wait for a New Year to make some positive resolutions for your life.

One seemingly minor change has to do with my appearance. In August, I decided on a whim to cut my long straight hair into a spiky little pixy cut. This was remarkable for two reasons. First, I don’t do anything on a whim. Spontaneous is not a word that anyone would put anywhere on a list of words to describe me. Second, my hair has been the same for most of my 40 years on the planet. I’m not big on change.

But the haircut did more than just update my hairstyle. It caused a total makeover in appearance, personality, and confidence. I love how I look now. I wear earrings – because, hey! You can see them! Even big dangly ones. I dress in nicer clothes. I love how my new glasses complement my look. I smile instead of frown when I look in the mirror. I love myself.

Related to appearance and self love is our new focus on health and exercise. My husband wants us to hike “rim to rim” at Grand Canyon National Park in 2016. That’s a brutally ambitious 22 mile, 1 day hike, some rest, and then a return hike a couple days later.

We both have the knowledge and experience to do this safely but we also both know we aren’t in good enough shape. Yet. The exercising began in earnest in July or August. It ramped up even more in the Fall.

It’s grown to a team activity. We rise early every morning and workout: one on the treadmill, the other on the bike. We do sit-ups and push-ups together. We’ve recently added squats.

In early November, an attempt to do 4 sit-ups resulted in muscles so sore, I had to rest a week before trying again. Now, I do over 50 and only struggle near the end… and without lingering soreness after! My husband has manifested the greatest improvements. While I’m still waiting to see the results on the scales, he has shed over 25 pounds and looks great.

Exercising has become a priority. We make it happen. Together.

The final groundbreaking development in 2014 was the overhaul of our finances. We’ve now been living on a budget for 6 months and we are both addicted to how well this works. We’ve paid off both vehicles, created a budget spreadsheet that allows us to tailor our budget exactly as we want it, allocated savings categories for upcoming vacations and big ticket items, mastered usage of a joint app on our phones to track expenses against the budget, and learned how to work together.

That’s been the greatest success. We work together better. We are more patient with each other. We listen. Now, don’t get me wrong. We still duke it out from time to time (figuratively). We still lose our cool. But for the most part, we both want to make it work and so we work.

Who knew that 40 was the age at which we’d finally grow up? I couldn’t be happier with my husband, my life, and myself. And I’m excited about where 2015 is going to take us.

No Good Deed

A coworker brought four dozen donuts to work Friday.  I’m sure he thought he was doing something that would be appreciated by everyone in the area.  It’s traditional for people to devour donuts.  They are provided at meetings, breakfast meet-ups, church “coffee and donuts” time before worship.  It’s a thing.  People love it.  I’m sure he thought he was being nice.  He anticipated thanks.

He got anything but.

When I walked in the door, Greek yogurt riding along in my bag, I saw the donuts and the first thought that went through my head was, What jerk brought donuts?!

I stood in front of the boxes and lifted the edges just enough to see the types.  Two dozen glazed.  One dozen chocolate icing.  One dozen blueberry cake.  Damn.

I’ll just eat one.  It’s ok, I thought to myself.

No it’s not!  It’s never ok.  Donuts are terrible for you.  Think of all the working out you’ve been doing.  You want to make progress.  Don’t eat a donut.  Eat the yogurt, I responded sternly.

Fine.  I dropped the lid and began to walk around the table.  But… But cake donuts aren’t quite as bad for you.  Are those blueberry?  Maybe I should see exactly what kind those purplish ones are.

Don’t do it!  Just walk away!

I studied the boxes some more and then picked up one of the cake donuts.  When I sniffed it, I accidentally touched it to my nose.  Great!  Now you’ve touched it with your nose.  You are going to have to take it now.

Like you didn’t already have to take it after you touched it.

Quit splitting hairs.  This is all your fault.  Jeez!  You have no self-control.

Whatever.  We’re two sides of the same coin.  We’ll skip the yogurt.  Minimize the calorie hit.  Besides, that yogurt has 10g of fat, half of it saturated.

I went to my desk and shamefully ate the donut.  When I learned who brought them a short time later, I harassed him for putting such temptation upon me.  A handful of others chimed in.  No one seemed happy that he had brought the donuts.  Well, except the youthful recent college grad who ate two because she doesn’t yet have to worry about where the calories go.  And the biggish guy who works out all the time but also eats whatever he wants and doesn’t care.  Everyone else was definitely annoyed.  The donut bringer hunched his shoulders and defensively said, “No one is making you guys eat them.”

Sometime later, a regular visitor entered our area.  He’s very loud and not someone I ever would have pegged as a health nut.  I knew he was there the moment he walked in the door because his voice boomed across the room:  “WHO BROUGHT DONUTS??!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  THOSE THINGS ARE HORRIBLE FOR YOU!

I died laughing and headed to the front of the room to join the conversation.  So did the donut bringer, a few minutes later.  He glared at us as he walked by and mumbled, “I’m not a jerk.”

Some of us may have had good intentions to not eat the donuts and some of us may have been able to keep to those intentions all morning.  But I couldn’t help but notice that before lunch, all the donuts were gone.

When I told my husband, he was aghast at our response.  “If I were him,” he said, “I’d bring donuts every Friday.  Just because you guys hate it.”

But here’s what I found fascinating (and cause for hope).  We have a snack bar full of junk food and cheap canned soft drinks in the fridge.  People bring candy and other junk and leave it on that table by the door.  But people didn’t like seeing the donuts.  Just a few years ago, no one would have made a scene.  Maybe, just maybe, we are all starting to learn.

Then again, someone set an apple on the table next to the donuts.  The donut bringer indignantly exclaimed, “Ok.  Who put the apple next to my donuts?”

I thought it was a pretty funny statement.  But not nearly as funny as the fact that the lone apple was still sitting there at the end of the day – long after the donuts were gone.  So I took it, intending to eat it.  It wasn’t nearly as tasty as the blueberry cake donut.  I forced myself to take several bites before dropping the remainder in the trash.

A Peachy Keen Morning

I had a good time before going to work yesterday morning.  After a satisfying workout where I actually ran (in two 5 minute sessions) and walked quickly while watching a video – a duration and intensity of workout not done by me in nearly 8 months, I showered and prepared for work.

Five year old Hal interrupted me in the act of putting on my socks and shoes for a rousing and humorous hug-a-thon, complete with his little body throwing me repeatedly down on the bed, tight neck hugs, a fun time of head-sitting, me tickling or booty pinching in return, raucous laughter, failed attempts to put on footwear while prone and encumbered, and… joyously sniffing of my shirt.

Yes, Hal delighted in how I smelled.  Well, specifically, he said, how my shirt smelled.  He paused at one point in the antics to sniff my back deliberately and intently.  He told me my shirt smelled good and when I asked him what it smelled like, trying in my mind to imagine how he would describe either the laundry detergent or my deodorant, he said, “Cherries!”

So there you go.  I smelled like cherries yesterday.  He reaffirmed that perception when I came home from work.  Of course, he also referred to the peach he had with dinner as a cherry – he does that often.  So maybe I’m actually a peach?

According to dictionary.com, the fourth and final definition of peach is:

Informal. a person or thing that is especially attractive, liked, or enjoyed.

I’ll take it.  He’s quite the peach of my eye as well.

Those Boys Would Hurt You

A lifetime ago, my husband and I played roller hockey.  It started with a handful of people playing pick-up in a converted tennis court in a city park.  It grew into a league of four teams that played two seasons a year, and eventually even involved us playing a season or two for the local university.

I wasn’t good and I certainly make no claim to have been, but it was fun and good exercise.  Very early on, I learned the value of a face mask (I was one of the few who were already wearing a helmet) when I collided with a co-worker who wore thick glasses to protect his eyes.  Those thick glasses were briefly smashed between our faces before I hit the ground hard.

As the only woman on the court, I felt the urgent need to get up quickly so as not to look weak and unable to take a collision.  I quickly rolled onto my knees and opened my eyes as I prepared to push myself to standing.  That’s when I noticed the blood gushing from my face and thought uh-oh.  I stayed put with my head down so the blood poured straight to the court instead of down my clothes.

Someone eventually gave me a dirty T-shirt to press against my forehead and then people helped me strip off my skates after guiding me to a bench to sit down.  Then my husband, very carefully avoiding the I told you so that had to be in his head (we had argued about the need for face masks just that afternoon), drove the co-worker and me to the emergency room.

He got 8 stitches.  I got 11 – straight through my right eyebrow.  Since he arrived to work before me the next morning, the crowd eagerly awaited my arrival.  Ah, yes… those were the days.

Pregnancy and hockey do not mix well, so my career, such as it was, ended a couple of years later with the Fall 1999 season.  The summer of 2000, about 6 or 7 months pregnant with Jane, I briefly donned skates and wobbled unsteadily around the rink, taking a shot – and scoring – on one of my fellow goalies.  That was my last time to wear skates and hold a stick.  Motherhood took over from there.

Until last night.

One of the men from those days was looking for a way to get himself back in shape.  And looking for a way for his son to play hockey without having to travel to a major town.  He’s starting up a league and holding pick-up games in the mean time.

He’s been encouraging my husband to join him and he finally did last week.  I went too because Hal wanted to see what it was all about.  That set a series of events into motion where we dug out our gear, found some cheap gear for the boys at a thrift shop, and took them skating a couple of times before they headed off to summer camp and grandparents’ houses.  Jane declined to participate.

Last night, with all the children gone, I joined my husband at the rink once again, this time dragging my dilapidated and broken bag behind me.  When I told the ticket man that we were paying for two people, he looked shocked.  “You are going to go out there and hit?!” he asked.

“I’m going to give it a go,” I responded, not bothering to mention that checking is usually avoided in recreational play.  At forty years old and after a fifteen year break, I wondered a bit if I was crazy.

I had a blast.

A serious blast.

I felt so alive skating back and forth, even if a bit unsteady.  It was a thrill to hold the stick and control the ball or puck (we had both out there).  There were three young boys too and we worked with them on their skills.  I was exhausted and exhilarated.

At one point, as I sat on the bench, panting for breath, a very young, small girl walked up.  She indicated to her mother that she wanted to go out on the rink.  Her mother told her no.  One of the men pointed out that I was skating.

“Yes,” her mother said, “She’s already told me that there is a girl out there.  But she can’t play – she’s a girly girl through and through.  The first time she fell down, she’d cry.”

“The first time those boys fall down, they cry too,” I commented.  And it was true.  Tears had been shed by at least one boy already.  I wondered briefly if girly girls are girly girls because they are or because their mothers insist they are.  Because that’s what they want.  This girl certainly appeared interested in joining the game.

The girl, of course, was not dressed appropriately for playing hockey.  In my mind, she wasn’t dressed appropriately at all, wearing just sandals, short shorts, and a sports bra-like top.  But she was obviously interested in what was going on on the rink.

I died a little bit inside when she reiterated her desire to go out there and her mother murmured, “No, honey.  Those boys would hurt you.”

The woman, I knew, wouldn’t have said that if the girl had been a boy.  The girl’s seven year old brother, after all, was out there right then.  All the boys were heavily padded and flopping down constantly.  None could stay on their feet for long nor move particularly fast.  No one was going to be hurting anyone.

But this girl was already learning her proper place in the world – on the sidelines unless it involved dance or cheer.  A hockey rink is no place for a lady.  With a sigh of regret, I slapped my helmet back on my head and returned to the action.

I should have said something.  I shouldn’t have worried about meddling with this woman’s child-rearing and her narrow view of the world.  I should have turned to the little girl and said, “Yes, you might get hurt.  But it’s not the boys that will hurt you.  It just happens when you do something worth doing.  You have to get up and keep going.  You can do it if you want to.”

New Frontiers

So what does the insecure and reserved goody-two-shoes do when she hits her mid-life crisis? If she’s anything like me, she throws caution to the wind and signs up to do something totally radical and unheard of. Cutting edge, daring, spontaneous, illogical. Playing in a badminton tournament so her company will keep their participation points. Talk about walking on the wild side.

Thanks to our strong turn-out in the 5K portion of this inter-company competition, our company was leading the way in participation points. That 5K race, by the way, was another notable example of my new daring approach to life. I began running a few months ago and finished my first race at 32:49. I kept an even maintainable pace and then, following my nine year old son’s sage advice, sprinted to the finish line as if I were in competition for something more than kudos from my kids.

This may not sound like much to those readers more adventurous than I, but for me, running in that race was terrifying. I barely slept the night before. I had no expectation of winning. That’s not what scared me. What scared me was the thought of trying and failing. Perfectionism is the antithesis of adventure.

However, the sky didn’t fall. I didn’t fail. My kids were proud of me. I succeeded. I felt good about myself.

So… when the email arrived from the 5K coach that the badminton team needed another female participant in order to retain all the participation points, I called my husband and asked if he thought I was crazy. Amazingly, the calendar was open the night of the tournament.

I reminded him that I hadn’t actually played badminton since ninth grade PE. He said he didn’t think recreational badminton would be all that tough and I should go for it if I wanted to. So I did. Completely out of character.

We had a practice a few days before the big event. Four of the six team members showed up. We attempted to play outside with a strong wind. It was quickly apparent that we were unlikely to earn anything more than those precious participation points. But at least I learned how to do the more sophisticated backhand serve – thanks to the teammate who had watched some YouTube videos of Olympic competitors.

When we arrived at the venue and began to walk from our car, I saw a man carrying a bag with racquets and shuttlecocks. Wow. I thought. He must be serious. Our coach had purchased a kit. Between him and the YouTube lady, we had enough racquets to go around.

I signed in and led my family into the gym. Our jaws dropped. Those birdies were flying hard from racquet to racquet. Rapid fire between the players warming up. People darting back and forth. It was intense. Even the competitors’ children were impressive, batting back and forth between the courts during warm-up.

“Dude,” my husband said. “You are totally going to get creamed.”

And he was right. A teammate would later comment that this was nothing like he was used to playing at barbeques. That teammate, and another one, actually took a birdie in the face because they were hit too fast to get out of the way.

My husband chuckled through a good portion of my first game. I was playing mixed with an overweight, middle-aged man who was fortunately pretty good. He somehow dove for a birdie and got it over the net in our first game. Neither one of us were rocking but we had a good time playing with each other. We were even leading during much of both matches in our loser’s bracket game. We might have won if we had been playing to 15 instead of 21.

The handful of coworkers that knew what I was doing had teased me about playing badminton. You could tell by their tone that they considered it a joke, a non-sport. Never mind that my muscles were still sore from the practice session. Never mind that I was sweaty and exhausted by the time the night was over. Never mind that they were likely sitting on the couch watching TV while I put my lack of talent on display. They still found it laughable.

That night taught me many things. First, what is a joke to some people is serious business to others. My team comprised most, if not all, of the white people in the room. The other competitors were overwhelmingly of Asian or Eastern Indian descent. And they were good. Really good. This sport was a big deal to them and, watching them play, it was unquestionably a sport. My coworkers had no room to laugh.

Second, I didn’t have to be the best, or even necessarily good, at something to have fun. We knew why we were there. We improved. We pulled off some good volleys and saves. We learned. We laughed. We had fun. It was a night well spent.

Third, it was rewarding to move out of my comfort zone. There was no risk. No downside. Why should I care what my non-adventurous coworkers thought? They were laughing but that was all they were doing. I was experiencing. I was living. I was learning. I was growing.

So maybe running races and competing in a sport you’ve never really played before doesn’t count as a mid-life crisis. Maybe it’d be more accurate to call it growing up. Finally.