June 28, 2012

Reclaim Your Mojo

We all know the benefits of exercise.  People who work out regularly have stronger hearts and bones, less stress, more energy and sleep better, among other benefits.  Once people start working out, it can become a great habit.  But even the most dedicated exerciser can have lulls where they don't want to work out.  When that happens (and it WILL happen), how do you re-find your mojo?

I experience this myself from time to time.  As a runner and triathlete, currently training for a few half marathons and my first half-Ironman distance triathlon (70.3 miles), I aim to workout 6-7 days a week.  Every day is either a swim, bike or run day. I also try to incorporate weights into my routine for extra strengthening, although those workouts are the first to go when I need to balance working out with the rest of my life.  I recently got into yoga as well, and try to attend one class per week (wish I could do more, but time is an issue). Most days I get up early in the morning to work out; as a mom of two young kids, my life is very hectic. I rarely have time to exercise during the day, and I definitely don't want to exercise at night after the kids are in bed. I'm too tired by then! I find if I get up early and hit the road or the pool I'm most likely to get it done.

But sometimes I just don't feel like working out.  I'm not talking about days where I am physically sick, or have a migraine, or am injured....I'm talking about days where my mind just isn't into it.  Maybe it's due to stress, or burnout, or boredom. Regardless, there are days where I just don't want to get my sweat on.

So what's a dedicated athlete to do when they've lost their mojo? Here are some tips that have worked for me in the past:

1)  Set a new goal.  Make a goal to lose a certain amount of weight.  Make a goal to do 10 pull-ups in a row, or to be able to run 5 miles nonstop.  My favorite motivator is to sign up for a new race.When I have a half marathon or a triathlon looming in the future, I know that in order to finish it strongly I need to train hard for it.

2)  Blab your goal to the world.  When I sign up for a new race, I tend to post it on Facebook.  Announcing to the world that I am training to run 13.1 miles or run, bike and swim 70.3 miles motivates me to get it done.

3)  Change up your routine. If you are a runner, try biking or swimming on off-days (that's how I got into triathlon, by the way!)  Take a pilates or Zumba class.  Do yoga. Get on the elliptical or rowing machine. Play tennis with a friend. As long as you're breaking a sweat and raising your heart rate, it's all good. 

4)  Add variety into your old workouts.  I can get bored pretty easily swimming 50 laps in a row. I have found that using paddles or doing various drills for some sets breaks up the monotony.  While running I may do some speed work, or hill repeats. Just this morning, I explored a new route on my bike because my old route was getting mind-numbingly boring. Keeping it fresh is key to avoiding burnout.

5)  Get new music.  I am a huge music fan, and love to listen to it while I'm running.  About once a month I go on a little shopping spree on iTunes and by myself some new music.  I then make a "new music" playlist and only listen to it on my runs.  Knowing I get to listen to some great new music is very motivating to me. And you don't have to spend money to change things up.  Flip through your old cds, borrow some tunes from a friend, or check some cds out of your local library to burn onto your mp3 player.

6)  Buy new gear.  Few things excite me in life other than having new gear to play with.  New running shirts, a new water bottle, new compression socks, new goggles, a new flavor of Gu to try...it doesn't matter what it is, if it's new I can't wait to try it.

7)  Workout with a friend.  Even if you've lost your mojo, having a friend waiting on you to run or bike can be powerfully motivating.  Ask a friend to go running with you or meet you at the gym.  You won't want to leave your friend hanging, and you'll be forced to meet him/her.  You may even want to join a local running group.  And nothing makes the time pass quicker than chatting with a friend. 

8)  Fake it till you make it.  Even if you don't WANT to go for a run, just put your shoes on and, in the immortal words of Nike, "Just Do It".  Sometimes I tell myself I only have to run (or bike or swim) half as far as I actually had planned, just to get myself out the door. Almost 100% of the time, I end up completing my originally planned mileage.

9)  Get encouragement from other athletes. Because few of my real-life friends are as crazy about running/biking/swimming as I am, I have found an amazing community of athletes on social media sites such as Twitter and dailymile.  My friends in real life don't want to hear about how great (or sucky) my 8 mile run was...but my friends on Twitter and dailymile do!  And when I'm in a mojo-slump, they are the first to encourage me, motivate me and sympathize with me.  It's great to have a support group, whether in real life or online, to help each other. Sometimes I've been known to scroll through the dailymile feed, looking at my friends' workouts, until one in particular will catch my eye and motivate me (for example, hearing how one friend plowed through her long run even though she wasn't feeling up to it, etc).  It's like athlete porn for me.

10) Do it now for the feeling later.  Sometimes when I have no mojo, I think about how good I'll feel when I get home. To me, nothing feels better than coming back in the house all sweaty, flushed, and exhausted from pushing myself.  It's an indescribable feeling that you have to experience to understand.  In order to get that feeling, you need to get out the door in the first place.

11) Take a break.  Sometimes, you really DO need a break.  Taking a few days off isn't going to hurt your fitness level, and just might be what the doctor ordered to re-energize your mind.  But be careful not to take TOO much time off...more than a few days can lead to inertia and laziness, and THAT will decrease your fitness level.

I hope these tips help you reclaim your mojo, as they help me.  Remember, losing it happens to everyone. It's making the effort to find it again that will define you as an athlete.

June 17, 2012

For My Daddy

They say a girl either marries someone just like her father, or the complete opposite (I think the same is true for boys and their mothers).  I believe this, because I married someone very much like my father.  My husband, J, has all the characteristics of my father that I love.  J is my rock.....and so is my Daddy.

If I had to pick an adjective to to describe Daddy, it would be unflappable.  Not in the sense that he never gets excited or ruffled (trust me, the man gets high emotions: just being in a room with him watching a football game is a roller coaster ride), but in the sense that nothing I could ever do would ever cause him to lose faith in me. 

Over the years, I've given him lots of scenarios where he could have reacted negatively, but he didn't. I remember one time in high school when I came home drunk. It was one of my first times drinking; I was pretty much a goody-goody in high school and didn't even take my first sip of alcohol until my senior year.  Anyhow, I came home, stumbled in, said (or slurred) hello, walked into my bathroom, and proceeded to vomit.  Most dads would have had a fit; Daddy helped me clean myself up and got me into bed.  I don't remember a reprimand. I never asked him, but knowing him the way I do, I'm sure he figured that the vomiting and subsequent hangover would be punishment enough.

For a few years in my early twenties, I was part of a women's group that met once a month on the full-moon.  They practiced a kind of spirituality; they called it witchcraft, even though they weren't Wiccan (which is an organized religion).  When I told Daddy about it, he went out and bought a book about witchcraft so he could understand what I was interested in.  Who does that?  My Daddy, that's who!  He was interested in what I was interested in.  Another time,  I went through my experimental phase in my twenties and desperately wanted to be a lesbian (I was doing an internship, doing psychotherapy, at the local Gay and Lesbian Community Center and loved the community so much that I wanted to be a part of it.  Alas, it turned out I was heterosexual after all).  Anyway, once I told my dad about one particular woman I had kissed.  The only question he asked was, "is she nice?"  He didn't care if I was gay or straight, only that I was with a good person!

My dad has always been supportive of whatever I want to do.  He is especially supportive of my running and triathlon habit.  He's thrilled I am working out consistently (especially given our family history of heart disease).  A few months ago he gave me a gift card to iTunes, the perfect treat for a runner.  He knew the way to his daughter's heart!  He was so proud of me when I finally broke 2:30 in the half marathon a few weeks ago.  Although he lives halfway across the country and is therefore not at  my races, I know that if he lived locally he'd be at every finish line cheering  me on. He's that kind of dad.

Daddy loves teaching---he's taught me many, many things over the years---all about football and baseball, how to shoot craps, how to play the guitar, just to name but a small few.  He always knows what I'm capable of, even when I don't know it myself.  One poignant moment for me was once when we went skiing. It was one of my first times, and at the end of the day he took me on an intermediate hills (I'd been skiing beginner hills all day).  I was scared to death, but he told me, "I wouldn't let you do anything I knew you couldn't."  And you know what? I got down that hill, and subsequently skied many intermediate hills.  He taught me how to get down any hill safely--even if I accidentally found myself on an expert hill--by simply snow plowing and/or slowly zigzagging down the mountain.  In that, he taught me a metaphor for life. I  can get through anything if I try hard and break things into little chunks.

Daddy always told me that when I met the person I wanted to marry, he'd give me his opinion once and that would be it. I knew right away when he met J that it was a match made in heaven.  My husband and my father get along so well.....he approved of J as soon as they met.  He was thrilled when we got engaged.  At our wedding, my plan was to surprise J during the reception by going up with the band and singing "Stand By Me" to him. Before the ceremony, I was a nervous wreck---I was excited about getting married, but was very emotional and overwhelmed.  Before we walked down, he suggested that I sing "Stand By Me" with him, out in the vestibule.  And I did.  Singing with him, and a few other family members, calmed my nerves enough for me to walk down the aisle. He knew exactly what I needed.  (By the way, later during the reception, my rendition of the song to my husband was a huge success!)

Because of the kind of man my father is, I sought out a similar man in my husband. J, like my dad, is also a rock. He unconditionally supports me, especially when I'm overwhelmed with my half marathon and triathlon training, when I overcommit in my volunteer work at the kid's schools, when I'm crying because the house is a disaster, the kids are driving me crazy, and the dog is acting hyper.  Like Daddy, J can talk me down from the ledge and emotionally support me until I find my way again.  Had I had not a father like the one I have, I'm not sure I would have searched such a man out.  Daddy gave me the blueprint for the perfect man for me.

On today, Father's Day, I want to wish my Daddy a very happy Father's Day.  Although I have tried, words truly cannot express the love I have for him.

I love you, Daddy.

June 6, 2012

Running: It's Who I Am

When I was a child, my family thought the way I ran was funny. My dad used to, as a joke, have me run on ahead of the family, and everyone would laugh at me.  I didn't mind; I'm sure I DID run funny, and I certainly wasn't an athlete. I didn't mind adding some amusement to family outings. I hated running, and hated all things athletic. I was always the last picked for teams in P.E. Running laps in P.E., whether it was in elementary school, junior high or high school was tortuous for me.

Well, who's laughing now?

I may not be the fastest runner out there, and I may not run the farthest distances....but I am a runner.

I am now 42 years old, and just completed my 13th half marathon. I have also completed one full marathon and a gazillion 5ks.  More than that, running is in my blood.  It's in my soul. It's who I am.  I am a runner.

I don't run every day; my body injures too easily for that.  I try to run 3 times a week (two short runs and one long run).  I cross train on the other 4 days of the week, swimming and cycling my little heart out, training for my triathlons.  I love biking and swimming, but running is my true love.  I am a runner first.

I don't remember the day I became a runner.  I started running in 1998, doing tons of 5ks, then doing my first half marathon in 1999.  I then quit running.  I started again in 2003, and took up running because I wanted to cross "run a full marathon" off my bucket list. I did, and quit running again immediately after.  I started to run again in the beginning of 2010, two and a half years ago, and I haven't stopped.  It's now a core part of who I am, and I can't imagine ever NOT running. When I'm injured I do everything I can to get back to running. I am a runner.

Not all runs are good.  Some runs suck.  Some runs hurt.  Some runs I feel like I'm slogging through, gasping for air, enduring all sorts of pain in my feet and legs.  But then there are the good ones.  The ones that feel like I'm literally flying, that my feet aren't touching the ground. The runs where I start upset about a problem, and come home with the solution all sorted out in my head.  The runs where I feel like I can run for miles and miles and miles.  Most runs, for me, lie somewhere in the middle.  Again, not all runs are good----but the great ones keep me coming back for more.

I don't run to lose weight, or to even maintain my figure (although I HAVE lost weight as a natural byproduct, going from a size 8 to a solid size 6---and now a size 4 in most clothes).  I started to run to be healthy.  My family has a horrific history of heart disease, on both sides of the family, and I woke up one day and realized I needed to do something to avoid that fate.  I also have osteopenia, which is one step above osteoporosis, and I decided that instead of taking medication, I would do life-style changes (calcium, vitamin D, and running).  Running is the ultimate weight-bearing exercise, which can increase bone density. Of course, there is no guarantee I won't have a heart attack, or develop osteoporosis, but I'd like to think I'm trying my hardest in terms of prevention.

I don't talk about it much in real life, because I think people would think I'm a freak, but I think about running often.  Actually, I think about it an awful lot.  I love to read blogs written by other runners, reading race recaps for races I've never run, run by people I've never met. It inspires me.  I get happy when my copy of Runner's World comes in the mail. Most importantly, I've connected with an amazing community of runners on Twitter and dailymile.  I love talking about my runs, and hearing about others'.  And I relate to my friends in real-life the most when they run, too. I have friends who hate running.  What?!? I can't fathom it. Not anymore.  The woman I've become is a runner.

I love other runners.  Not every runner is nice, and not every runner is someone I relate to, but by and large I think runners are the best people out there.  There are many communities I can relate to--women, moms, moms with kids with special needs, the Jewish community, heck, even triathletes--but put me in the middle of an expo before a race, or in the middle of the pack during a half marathon, and I feel at home.  Runners are my peeps.  I understand them, and they understand me.  I love talking about all things running:  training plans, races, shoes, injuries, gear.  Oh, the gear.  Only another runner understands getting up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday, when everyone else is sleeping in, to get their miles in.

Today is National Running Day, and fittingly, I celebrated with a run.  I went on a 21 mile bike ride with a friend, and then ran 2 glorious hot and hilly miles after, making a brick for my triathlon training and an ode to my beloved running.  Happy National Running Day, friends,  Run like the wind, and enjoy your miles. I know I did....because I'm a runner.

June 4, 2012

San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon Race Recap ('12)

Yesterday I ran in my second Rock 'n 'Roll San Diego Half Marathon; last year was my first time (race recap here). Actually, it was my third time doing the San Diego event, because I did the full marathon back in 2003 (my first, and only, full marathon). Yesterday's race was very emotional for me, because I finally, FINALLY, reached my goal of running a sub 2:30 half marathon. Yesterday was the day.

But what's a recap without starting at the beginning? I need to back up.

I had to go to the expo on Friday. My son, D, was running the ING KiDS ROCK 1 mile race the next morning, so I needed to pick up his bib as well. I didn't arrive at the expo until about 5:30 p.m., which was great since it wasn't too crowded. I got my bib, goody bag and shirt, and started to wander the aisles. An announcer said that at 6:00 there would be a Q&A panel with Olympic marathoners Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay for the panel, as I needed to get home to help put the kids to bed (family first!) so I just browsed. I treated myself to 5 new RazzyRoo headbands (my favorites, I wear them all.the.time) and spontaneously signed up for the inaugural New Year's Race: Los Angeles At Night Half Marathon, which will run through the streets of L.A. at night! It was $20 off if you signed up at the expo. (By the way, this will make 3 half marathons I'll be running in January. Oy!)

When I walked by the area where the panel would be speaking. I was excited to see Deena Kastor at a table signing autographs! Now, what I haven't told you is that I have a personal connection to Deena. I am friends with her cousin, whom I have known since the early 90's (my ex-boyfriend was roommates with her now-husband). My friend was always talking about her runner cousin, Deena, but at the time I wasn't into running and didn't really get it. Both Deena and I were at my friend's wedding, back in 1999, but again, I didn't really get who she was. I was barely into running myself (I was training for my first half marathon) and Deena had yet to get to her first Olympics (she represented the United States in the marathon in the Olympics in 2000, 2004 AND 2008....and she just missed going to London in 2012.)

Anyhow, I stood in line to meet her. She signed a picture of herself, and I asked her to also sign my race bib. I told her our personal connection, and we actually had a real conversation! We talked about my friend/her cousin, their wedding, and how I knew her. She asked me if I ran alone or with a running club; when I told her I ran alone she seemed somewhat shocked! We only spoke for a few minutes, as there was still a long line behind me, but I was delighted to have gotten to speak to one of my running heroes. I left the expo on a real high!

Me and my new BFF, Deena!

Really wish I could have met Meb, too!

Saturday was busy...I took a 3 mile walk with a neighbor (something I wouldn't ordinarily do the day before a race but I wanted to catch up with her), had lunch with my step-mother who was in town to run the half marathon, and then my family had our first ever photo shoot. My son ran his mile race in a speedy 7:24! After a carb-filled dinner at Claim Jumper, I went to bed early....I had a 3:00 wake-up call, as I was being picked up at 3:45 in order to meet my carpool at 4:00. Yes, Rock' n' Roll starts early!

As usual the night before a race, I had a hard time sleeping. I fell asleep pretty easily but woke up almost every hour, paranoid I was going to miss my alarm. I was up for good at 2:00, and finally got out of bed at 2:30. I went downstairs and got ready for my race. Usually at this time of morning I can't eat anything (I was unable to eat anything before either the Hollywood or OC Half marathons....food made me feel nauseous) but I felt great and munched on a Luna Bar as I got dressed. My friend picked me up, and we met 3 other friends (including Andrea and Steve) so we could all carpool down together. We went in together on a Fast Pass, which was great! Last year the pass cost $100 (!!!) but this year it was $35, and then $2 for each additional person. This was a bargain at only $9 per person! We drove down, parked at Sea World, used the clean, unused Port-o-Potties, then got on a shuttle to the start line in Balboa Park.

The race started at 6:15, but of course my corral (slated to be corral 25) wouldn't start until much later. I checked my gear, took pictures with my friends, and we waited a loooooong time for the Port-o-Potties. I even had another snack, a Honey Stinger Waffle. Two of my friends and I decided to move to corral 21, and soon enough (6:46 to be exact) we were crossing the start line.

Now, I've been worried about 4 different injuries. 1) My plantar fasciitis, which flares up when I least expect it, 2) sciatic nerve pain in my left glute, which has been plaguing me since November, 3) sciatic nerve pain at the top of my left hamstring, which is a new pain I've been feeling for the past few weeks, and 4) foot pain from when I injured it in April. My goal for this race was simple: finish it. I was NOT concerned about a time goal. I truly just wanted to finish as pain-free as possible. In fact, after I finished the OC Half Marathon last month, I was in so much pain after that I was thinking of not running Rock 'n' Roll. But I decided to do it, even if it meant me walking the whole darned thing. As it turns out, I had 3 out of the 4 pains occur during the race. My foot injury from April never happened again (thank goodness....it had hurt in the same spot during last month's OC Half) but the other 3 pains happened on-and off. My plan--which I stuck to---was to keep my mid-foot strike, run nice and easy, and walk when I had to.

The race started in Hillcrest, which I love, as I used to live there and run that very route. It brought back some great running memories. We turned onto University Avenue, and I was excited because my college boyfriend, who lives there, said he would be on that street cheering me on. I was so happy to see him, and he took this great picture!  By way, I wore a running skirt for the first time, which I LOVED (adored the roomy pockets on the sides!) and a new Texas flag running bra that my sister bought for me at a running store while on vacation in Dallas this winter. This was awesome because I got a lot of spectators shouting "Go Texas!" for me!

Smiling....at only mile 1.25!
Soon we entered the Balboa Park area, where there were tons of spectators (including a great group of kids, I think from a local theater, who were all dressed as Dr. Seuss characters). We then split off from the marathoners and headed up the freeway on the 163. This stretch is hard because not only is it about 2 miles uphill (albeit a gentle uphill) but the freeway slants, which is hard on the foot.

It was here that I met some people that really put a smile on my face. I started talking to a man and a woman, who were visiting here from Arizona. It was the man's first half marathon. I congratulated him and told hm it was my 13th. He asked when I first one was, and I told him my first half marathon was in 1999, although I didn't run one again until 2010. He asked how old I was in my first one, and I told him I was 29. "Oh My GOD," he yelled. "You look AMAZING for 41!". I told him I was actually 42, and he was astounded. He is only 26, and he told me I inspired hm to keep running if he could look this good! It TOTALLY made my day! I dropped them at mile 4.5, when I stopped for a walk break and to take my first GU. I also passed an ambulance putting a man on a stretcher. I have no idea what happened; I hope he's ok. It was also here that I started to get some of my pains, but I would slow to a walk and they would go away.

Still on the freeway
We finally got off the freeway and ran past the Fashion Valley mall. Here again were tons of spectators, cheerleaders and great signs. My favorite sign I saw (actually, this might be my favorite sign ever!) said "Rosie, we know you can do it! Mark, we're not so sure". I literally laughed out loud! I was feeling pretty good here....I was taking my GUs every 4 miles as planned, drinking the Gatorade I had brought with me, and between that and the two snacks I had earlier this morning I felt fueled. I passed most water stops, but I did stop at a few for water, not to drink but to pour on myself. Although the weather was amazing (cloudy the entire time; I never even put on my sunglasses!) I was still a bit warm, and I loved pouring water on my arms and down my back.

My signature self-portrait while running
At mile 10 I noticed that I was doing great on time. I knew that this would be the last time this year that I would have the chance to break 2:30. My next half marathon is part of my 70.3 triathlon; I have a feeling that after swimming 1.2 miles and then biking 56 miles it would NOT be my fastest run. And my final half marathon of 2012 will be the Portland Half, which is only a week after my huge triathlon! I think I'll be very sore and tired, so I have no illusions that I will be fast on that one either. So if I didn't meet my goal during Rock 'n' Roll, I'd have to wait until January, which is not the end of the world. But my time at mile 10 was totally within range of meeting the goal. I made a decision then and there to try my hardest to get through any pain and fatigue and just get that goal!

These crazy marathoners dressed as Fred & Wilma--even holding big dinosaur bones the whole way!

Just like last year, I had a surge of energy between miles 10.5 and 12. There is a stretch that we run down on Morena Blvd where you run up and then make a u-turn and run down the other side the street. I LOVE that part! The runners whoop it up, and it's fun to look for friends on the other side. I entered a zen state---looking for my friends, keeping a great pace, and I kept the same song on repeat on my iPod here to keep my zen going. At mile 13, I was so tired....but I knew I only had a little more to go. I saw my friend T on the sidelines, who came to cheer us on, and I shouted at him that I was going to break 2:30. He yelled back to get going and get it! I pushed hard, and crossed the finish line at 2:29 and change.

self-portrait, in tears, immediately after getting my medal
I got my medal, and broke down in tears. I had done it! Not only did I have a shiny new PR but I finally met my goal of crushing 2:30. It had taken me a year and a half and 9 half marathon attempts to do it, but I did it. One of my girlfriends was a minute behind me, so I waited for her and we walked through the finish area together. There was TONS of food to get--bananas, oranges, chocolate milk, yogurt, fruit cups, Marathon Bars--and my hands were full with all of it. Luckily at the end Vons was giving out reusable bags, which I gladly took to put everything in. We met the rest of our friends, walked to the car (which was so close! so happy for the Fast Pass) and got home.

A better, posed, non-tearful post-race picture
I'm not sure what made the difference during this race versus other races. I certainly took a good amount of walk breaks, although I kept them short and my running itself was faster in general. I was also well-fueled, and it wasn't hot, which breaks me in races. Finally, I've been running so much---this was my 3rd half marathon in 3 months--that I guess I was well trained. Even the hills didn't seem hard at all. Whatever it was, I am very proud of myself. I hope to do this time--or better--again in 2013.