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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Contested Calories

When we started working out daily, with an eye toward going Rim to Rim at Grand Canyon National Park next year, I kept an exercise log that included minutes, miles, and calories burned. I used the calories reported by the treadmill and I was happy.

In January, we added an elliptical to our home gym, to replace the dying, finally dead bicycle. We also added Polar Beat heart monitors, which allowed us to track our heart rate, which in turn helped us see when we needed to push harder and when we needed to let up. But that’s when the trouble started.

You see, the heart rate monitors never showed as many calories burned as the equipment did. At some point, my husband opted to record the monitor’s calories instead of the equipment’s. I soon reluctantly followed suit.

Reluctantly because, at this point, we had also begun using the MyFitnessPal app on our phones to track calorie intake. My 1 pound per week weight loss goal only allowed me 1200 calories a day, which is tough. Impossible – to me anyway. But every calorie burned during exercise was an extra calorie I could consume.

Now, I know. I burn how many calories I burn – it doesn’t matter what either app says, but still. I felt restricted. But I adapted and life went on and I was happy.

Then we ran a 5K a couple of weeks ago. We used our heart rate monitors to track distance, speed, heart rate, calories. (Side note: Thanks to a Samsung Galaxy S4 Android update problem, my phone couldn’t ever sync to GPS so I didn’t get distance and speed – my first attempt to use my monitor for that purpose and I was sorely disappointed. But that’s a different story.)

When I finished the run, I saw that my average heart rate had been up over 160. I hadn’t realized I was pushing that hard. And, glory, glory! I’d burned well over 600 calories! In a half hour workout! Woo-hoo! I rock!

Then my husband deigned to question my calorie burn. He hadn’t burned that many so how could I? I scowled at him. But then I began poking around in the app. There was apparently a personal section that it hadn’t prompted me to fill in, so it was sitting at some default values.

Polar Beat thought I was a bit bigger than I am.

7’9″ tall and 333 pounds, to be exact.

“Think that might report more calories burned than I actually burned?” I asked my husband.

“I would think a 333 pound person getting their heart rate up to 165 for that period of time would most likely burn a lot more calories than you,” he responded.

So I corrected my app’s misunderstanding of my weight and height.

And the next time I exercised, I barely burned 150 calories. But I was tired and unmotivated, maybe it didn’t mean anything.

I’ve been watching it for a week or two now and I can tell you conclusively, someone my size just doesn’t burn very many calories. Which sucks. Because, well, someone my size would sure like to consume more calories than she gets to.

But I’m adjusting and working harder in my workouts and I’m still happy. Being 5’5″ and the healthy weight I’m at is surely better than being as tall as a tree and over 300 pounds, no matter what Polar Beat says.

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.

What No One Talks About

There are certain aspects of motherhood that no one tells you about ahead of time. I’m not sure why. Maybe they are too busy being a mommy. Maybe they are too embarrassed. Maybe they forget. I’m not sure. All I know is that some of them were quite upsetting to me when I thought I was the only one experiencing them. I’ve made it a small mission to make sure Jane knows what may be in store for her.

No one warns you that you might start growing little black chin hairs as you age. This one isn’t related to motherhood, just advancing age. I found this mortifying until I found the courage to whisper it to some people and discover that I’m not the only one with tweezers in my purse for something other than extracting splinters from children’s fingers.

They also never tell you that if you have too many children, the skin on your stomach might just give up and decide to stay that way, no matter how much weight you lose. How many is too many surely varies from woman to woman. For me, the number is three. Hal, I paid a heavy price for you. I hope you appreciate it.

I remember asking my doctor when my stomach was going to finish contracting a few months after he was born. She looked me in the eye and said matter-of-factly, “It’s probably not going to. Just remember you’ve got three beautiful babies to show for it.” Thanks.

The single worst effect of childbirth however, is unquestionably the loss of bladder control. The first time I wet my pants when I sneezed, I was shocked. What just happened?! I soon learned how to discretely cross my legs – sometimes even while walking – when I felt a sneeze coming on. Certain activities were immediately off my can-do list: jump roping and trampoline jumping being at the top.

I suffered in silence for awhile before looking up at a kid’s birthday party being held at a gymnastics gym and noticing one of the other moms was missing. I had seen her jumping on the trampoline with one of her children just a few minutes earlier. When I asked someone where she was, she leaned in and whispered, “She had to run home and change clothes.”

“Why?” I asked.

She looked at me like I was a fool. “She peed in her pants jumping on the trampoline.”

“Really?! It’s not just me? That’s why I didn’t dare get on it. Has it ever happened to you?”

I got the you’re-a-fool look again. After that, I started paying attention and dropping comments. I soon found that many – not all, but many women have the same problem. It can be minimized with targeted exercises, but only if you remember to do them and do lots of them. I was a busy mom and couldn’t seem to remember. So I continued to eschew trampolines and jump ropes while perfecting my sneezing/laughing leg cross.

And life went on. Until now. I got it into my head to try the Couch-to-5K program. I knew my walking regimen had stagnated. I needed to ratchet up my exercising. This seemed like just the thing. The first day on the treadmill, I realized my problem. The jarring motion of running was remarkably similar to jumping. I stopped the treadmill and took a potty break. After that, I made sure I used the bathroom immediately before starting my exercises and all was good.

So good, in fact, that I kind of forgot that it had been a problem. When I agreed to run in a 5K race recently, the team captain offered the opportunity for people to show up at the local track and run a mile to get our pacing times and a work-out plan. I had focused on staying hydrated all day at work and then used the bathroom just before I left. But then I had to drive to the track and go through preliminary instructions and warm-ups. It was probably close to an hour since I had used the bathroom and I had been drinking a lot of water that afternoon. I registered the fact that I needed to pee but since there were no facilities available, I put it out of my mind.

About a fourth of the way along the first lap, it started. Every foot fall. Ok, you can’t cross your legs while you run. I’ve become quite gifted at doing it while walking, but only for one step. What was I to do? If I stop, besides looking like an incapable wuss (in my mind), I won’t get the pace time and targeted workout. There was nothing to do but keep running. And get wet. Very wet.

I tried to take comfort in the fact that I was wearing black shorts, so no one would be able to tell they were wet. That anything visible could be passed off as sweat. I tried to ignore it. The run was brutal. It was my first time to run outside and it was summertime in Texas. It was hot, I was tired and winded, and I had to contend with wet clothes sagging down uncomfortably. But I finished the four laps. And even participated in the stretches. Then whispered my situation to my husband, who looked at me with a shocked look on his face. “Really?!”

Yes, really. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go home. Jane would be back from summer camp within a half hour. So we drove to the church and I changed back into my jeans from work. Commando style. Pretty sure that was a first for me and it just felt weird.

When Jane climbed out of the van, she ran to me and embraced me in a hug. I returned the hug tightly, leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “Do you have any clean underwear and shorts in your suitcase?”

She tried to pull away to look at me but I held tight. “I have clean underwear,” she responded.

“Yes! Excellent!”

Again she tried to pull away. “Um, why?”

“Because I ran this afternoon and completely wet myself. I mean, like running down my leg. My sock’s even wet.” She started to laugh. “I’m not wearing any underwear and it’s really uncomfortable.” Her laugh became a loud cackle. “And you had better not speak a word of this to anyone, especially your friends.”

So why am I writing about it? Well, first off, it’s a really funny story. And I’ve told embarrassing stories about my kids here. How hypocritical is it to refuse to shine that spotlight on myself? But mostly, it’s because it’s a reality that many, many women live with. And we all hide it. And many of us think we are alone. Well, we aren’t. The event became so preposterous because I wasn’t willing to let it stop me from doing what I set out to do. But I am sincerely hoping that it will help me remember to do those darn exercises. Maybe it does happen to a lot of women, but I think I’m ready to see if I can stop being one of them.