February 23, 2011

What Is YOUR Excuse?

It's no secret that I've become addicted to working out. I try to work out every day: I run, bike or swim. Sometimes I do something different and I do the ellipitcal or another machine instead. And I try to lift weights for strength training at least 3 times a week. Not only do I need to work out daily because I'm in training---I still have 3 half marathons and 4 triathlons left to complete this year!-- but I FEEL better when I work out. I feel good physically, mentally and emotionally. Of course, there are days that I have to skip my workout. Sometimes I wake up and I am utterly exhausted, or I am sick. On those days I listen to my body and take a rest day. Other days it's logistically impossibly for me to get a workout in. And that's ok---to miss a day here and there is fine.

Because I am so committed to an active lifestyle now, I don't understand people who aren't. I mean, I literally don't understand how people can NOT be active! I'm not saying that people need to work out daily like I do, but there is no reason not to be active at least 3-4 days a week.

People have excuses.

Trust me, I used to be the queen of excuses. I went for many years being an on-again-off-again runner and gym rat. On my off-months (or off-years even) I would say that I didn't have time. Or that my weight was fine, I didn't need to exercise. Or that the gym was too far away.

What I wasn't taking into account was that even though my weight was fine, I was at-risk for some medical problems. I have a horrific heart history on both sides of my family, and even though I have low cholesterol and very low blood pressure it doesn't mean I am not at risk myself. Plus, I have osteopenia and exercising will help me increase my bone density. And, of course, everyone knows the other benefits of exercise: it decreases the risk of cancer, helps with depression, and gives more energy, among tons of other benefits.

Plus, regular exercise makes your body look hot!

What I have come to realize is that if you really want to do something, you will find any excuse TO do it. If you don't want to do something, you'll find any excuse NOT to. For example, let's say I hurt my foot and can't run (this is not a far-fetched example, as I am injury-prone!). If I wasn't committed to working out, I'd blow it off and "rest" until I felt better, days or even weeks later. But now? If my foot hurts and I can't run, that's ok. I can still do something else that is non-impact: I can swim, bike, or do the elliptical. In short, there is no excuse that I can come up with for not exercising, but there are a million excuses I can find to do it.

This is the same premise in life: if you really want to do something you find a way to do it. Want to take a vacation you can't afford? You can save a little bit each month until you can afford it. Want to find time to pursue a hobby? If you really want to, you'll find a way to carve out the time, no matter how busy you are.

I am always reminded of something I heard about our President. Who is busier than the President of the United States? Not many people. The President has a very busy, extremely stressful schedule. Yet each of our recent Presidents have found time to exercise. Bill Clinton and George W Bush ran, and Barack Obama runs and plays basketball. If THEY can find time in their schedules, I think everyone can.

Here is my rebuttal for people's excuses not to exercise:

  • "I don't have time." See my above paragraph about the President of the United States. Everyone can make time to work out. It may not be every day, but I have a hard time believing that people can't find 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week, to get their heart pumping and body sweating. I myself have trouble finding time in the day, so most of my workouts are done early in the morning. Do I LIKE getting up at 5:20 in the morning to get to the pool? No. But if I don't get in the pool by 5:45, then I won't have time to swim. I suck up the early wake-up alarm and just do it. Also, re-examine your schedule. What can you cut out? Do you need to be on the phone so much? Or watching so much television? Or surfing the web? If you cut out ONE TV show, there is your 30-60 minutes. Or you can multi-task and watch TV WHILE you exercise!

  • "It's too hot/cold/windy." I understand that sometimes weather can affect workouts. But that is no excuse. If it's too cold, and you want to run outside, dress in appropriate layers. It it's too hot, wear as little as you can, and try to schedule the workout for earlier in the day, or in the evening, when it is a bit cooler. Or, move your workout inside! Join a gym and get on the treadmill, bike, or take a class---inside is always heated or cooled, depending on the season. I see my friends on Twitter and dailymile work out in extreme weather all the time. I'm in awe---living in San Diego I don't have quite those challenges--but they do it and make it work.

  • "I can't afford a gym." Gym memberships can be pricey, so shop around. It doesn't have to be a fancy gym---the local Y may have something in your price range. Or, skip the gym all together! All you really need is a good pair of shoes to run in. You can buy weights or resistance bands at Target or a sports re-sale shop. You can even buy exercise DVDs and do a class in the privacy of your own living room. As a last resort you can put on the radio and dance; go up and down your staircase; go for a walk around your neighborhood. Sometimes, though, paying for a gym membership can be incentive to go. I used to belong to a gym that was several miles (and a few freeway exits) away. It was cheap, but because it was far (at least in my mind) I never went. A few years ago I quit that gym and joined a gym that was half a mile from my house (but 3 times the cost!) However, I use it! Because it's so close, and I pay so much, it's hard NOT to go!

  • "I don't like to run/bike/swim/lift weights." That's ok! Do something else! Take a walk, go for a hike, or even put on some good music and DANCE for 30 minutes! Try yoga, ballet, a spin class, water aerobics. Anything that you can do to move your body is good!

  • "Exercise is boring." Exercise can be fun! I always bring my iPod on my runs, and delight in updating my playlist from iTunes periodically. I love to listen to music. I also listen to a few podcasts, and download these for my long runs. Many gyms have televisions to watch while working out. You can also enlist a friend! Having buddy run or walk with you definitely makes the time go faster. On days when I am exercising and can't listen to music (like when I'm swimming, or riding my bike on the road) I let my mind wander, daydream, sing out loud, or concentrate on my form. You can take a fun class (try being bored in a zumba class!) or try something new (it's hard to be bored when you are concentrating on learning!) We all do things that are boring: sit through meetings, go on long flights, attend work parties. But we do them. Exercise is just as important, and whatever boredom you may feel can be easily alleviated.

  • "I have kids." Find a gym with child care. My daughter, A, LOVES to go to the daycare at my gym. Hire a sitter or do a swap with a friend to watch each other's kids. Put the baby in a stroller and go for a long walk. Take a Mommy-and-Me yoga class where your baby is part of the class. Put on a DVD and do a workout while the baby is napping, or the kids are playing nearby. Put on roller-skates and skate with your kids. Take your kids to a nearby park and run with them, or play basketball with them. MOVE WITH THEM.

  • "I don't know what to do." Well, you know how to walk. If you can walk, then walk. If you want to kick it up, hire a personal trainer for a few sessions, read a book, or ask a fitness-savvy friend. I myself took a few swimming lessons last summer when I decided I wanted to do triathlon; I needed to work on my form. There are experts all around us....just ask!

  • "I'm too old and/or out-of-shape." Nonsense. You're never too old or out-of-shape to start. There are women with blue hair at my gym, in the pool doing water aerobics and doing strength training on the machines. There are overweight people everywhere walking off the pounds.
In short, there no excuse in the world not to exercise. But there is every excuse in the world TO JUST DO IT! There is no better feeling than a runner's high, or a post-workout glow, or the feeling of satisfaction knowing that you just pushed your body. Your body, mind and soul will thank you.

February 15, 2011

The Age of Innocence

I've written before (as recently as last week) about how much I am enjoying the stage of life that my son, D, is in. He is 6 years old (almost 7) and in 1st grade. This age definitely has it's challenges: he is starting to assert his independence, he thinks he knows it all, and I would LOVE to know if anyone has a way to to help him keep his hands to himself! But the positives overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives. He is just adorable.

A few nights ago we began to read Harry Potter together. He is more than ready for this book; he is a voracious reader who is reading way beyond the first grade level. He is currently reading Narnia! I've been holding off on giving him Harry Potter, because some of the content can be a bit scary. However, J and I discussed it and we realized that the Star Wars book he reads have just the same level of action and adventure!

Instead of giving him the books to read, I am reading them to him. We just started a few nights ago, so we are only in chapter 3 of book 1. I anticipate it will take quite some time to get through these, but I am really enjoying it. First, I LOVE the world of Harry Potter, and I am excited to be the one to expose D to it. Second, I am enjoying re-reading the book! I have only read each book once, so it's fun for me to experience it again. And third, it's nice to have reading time again with D. In recent months he has wanted to read by himself (this kid can finish a book in no time flat) and I have missed the special time of snuggling on his bed and reading with him.

Reading to him is making me cherish him even more. He is so innocent right now. He doesn't know anything about sex or drugs; he doesn't know any bad words (except for "stupid" and "dumb"); he doesn't know about bigotry and anti-semitism and racism and intolerance. All of this will change at some point, obviously, but it's so nice to enjoy my baby so innocent, so full of wonder, in awe of the world.

I know he has to grow up at some point; in fact, he already is! I'm just dreading the day when his innocence is truly lost. Childhood is magic, and it's times like this when I just love being a mother.

February 8, 2011

It Keeps Getting Better

This morning I was in my gym's locker room when I noticed a woman sitting on a bench, nursing her baby. I asked how old the baby was, and commented that I missed those newborn days, and how much I had enjoyed nursing.

The woman told me her son was 3 months old, and that he was her first child. "I don't want him to get any older," she told me. "I love this stage."

I had to agree with her to a point. It's no secret that I desperately want to hold on to my kids' childhoods as long as I can. I cherish every stage and hate to see them grow up, even though I know it's the natural, healthy progression. That newborn stage was magical, especially with my son, D. I remember wailing to J WHILE STILL IN THE HOSPITAL AFTER GIVING BIRTH that time was going so fast...and at that point D was only a few days old!

But then I had to reflect. When D was 3 months old, he was adorable---but really, there were minimal things he could do. He nursed, pooped, and slept. He wasn't sitting up yet. He wasn't even rolling over. Our big milestone was that he was smiling. So while he was precious, and trust me, I LOVED that stage with him, there wasn't too much interaction. (I'm not even going to discuss A at 3 months old....freshly home from the NICU, she was a medically fragile mess.)

Every month that goes by, my kids become more and more interactive. Take D, for example. At almost 7 years old, he is inquisitive, verbal and fun. We are able to DO things together the way you can't with a 3 month old---play board games, go to movies, have abstract conversations about religion. And my daughter, A....at age 4 1/2 she has come a long way from the helpless infant in the NICU. She helps me grocery shop, cook, and fold laundry. We laugh, play and talk about her day.

Do I miss the infant stage? You bet. There is nothing like being your child's world, of having them depend on you for every need. But would I trade my kids' current stages to go back? No way. As much as I dread them growing older, I AM having more fun with each passing stage. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

February 2, 2011

I Feel Like A Running Fraud

This past weekend I visited my friend Krista up in Portland. It was an amazing, relaxing weekend. We went to the famous bookstore, Powell's, shopped in cute boutiques in funky neighborhoods, and even had a foot soak/reflexology session. I returned home happy and recharged.

One of the most fun things we did was go to a local running store, Foot Traffic. Krista recently expressed desire to run her first 5K, and I could think of no better way to help my friend than to get her fitted for good quality running shoes. I was determined not to leave Oregon without getting her set up. After all, I love running and participating in races, and am thrilled she wants to try it too!

When we walked into the running store, one of the workers immediately started to work with Krista, having her run on the treadmill to examine her stride, etc. The other worker started to chat with me. She asked me, "Are you a runner?" I immediately replied yes, started talking about the half marathon I had just run a week before, and began browsing the shop.

Secretly, I was waiting for the alarms to go off. I was expecting a voice to come over the loudspeaker saying, "This girl is not a runner. She is an imposter."

You see, I don't FEEL like a runner. I don't FEEL like an athlete. And I sure don't feel like a triathlete. I've written before how fitness hasn't always been a big part of my life. I was always the last-picked for teams in P.E. And I'm slow---good lord, I'm slow. I am one of the Penguins John Bingham talks about, plodding along in the back-of-the-pack while the Gazelles speed on ahead.

I know that my feelings are inaccurate. Here are the facts:

1) I run 3 times a week. I do two short runs during the week, and a long run on the weekends.

2) The other 4 days a week that I am NOT running I am either biking or swimming.

3) I frequent my gym roughly 4 times a week, not just to use their pool but for weight training.

4) I have spent enough on gear (shoes, Garmin, wetsuit, bike, fuel belts, iPod, RoadID, etc) and race entry fees to pay a mortgage payment. Or two.

5) I think about working out all the time. When I find someone who also likes to talk about it (in real life, on Twitter, or dailymile) I get super-excited.

6) Nothing stops me from getting my workout in, except being seriously sick or literally not being able to schedule it (like if J is away on a business trip and there are no childcare options). I've run in the rain, the heat, and the cold. I've swam in the cold rain. If the weather isn't ideal, I'll take my workout indoors at the gym (the treadmill, a spin cycle, etc)

7) I squeal when my new copy of Runner's World comes in the mail. Literally. Ask my kids.

8) This year alone I intend on completing 4-5 half marathons and 3-4 triathlons. In 2010 I did 2 half marathons and 2 triathlons (which was a new sport for me).

9) The night before a long run or ride (on weekends) I try to go to bed early. I've missed out on some fun events because of it, but I need my sleep and don't want to sacrifice my workout.

10) Some of my favorite books and blogs to read are running related. I like to read about everyone from my hero, Dean Karnazes, to the runner next door. It all motivates and inspires me.

11) For my birthday next month, all I want is new workout clothes.

Given all the above evidence, I KNOW I'm an athlete. Then why can't I feel it? Why can't I accept the identity, rather than just the action (for example, thinking "I am a runner" vs. "I am someone who runs")?

I need to stop comparing myself to those who are faster than me and accept that it's ok to be slow. I've never come in last (even though I once came in 3rd to last place) and even if I do, it doesn't matter. What matters is not giving up and crossing the finish line.

I need to stop comparing myself to those who do longer races (full marathons, longer triathlons, ultra-races, etc) and realize that everyone has their distance; for me, a full marathon is too long (been there, done that, and never want to again) and a 5K or 10K is too short. A half marathon is the perfect race length for me to train for and really push myself.

I need to embrace the athlete that I've become, and know that what I'm doing now is more than I've ever done in my life. At age 40 (almost 41) I've never looked--or felt--better. I am setting myself up to be healthy well into old age. I love to exercise, and feel "off" all day on the rare days that I don't get a workout in.

Yes, I'm a runner. I'm also a biker and swimmer.

I'm an athlete, regardless of what I think.