Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Au Revoir 2013: Reflection on the past year(s)

As I look back on the previous year, as so many of us are doing right about now, I am really thankful and grateful for how far I've come. A year ago, in December of 2012, I was coming off of one of the hardest years of my life. In so many ways, I had been thrown for a loop, beaten, broken, challenged, and, I don't know, insert whatever downtrodden word you can think of there, and I'm sure it fits.

I was having a god-awful time with my son, who was spiraling out of control and getting himself into all sorts of trouble at school, with law enforcement, and in our home. I had found love after years of being single, only to have my heart broken when my boyfriend, who I had been leaning on during all of my parenting struggles, dumped me and disappeared from my life. I was in the midst of a fellowship program at work that, while providing me with lots of opportunities, had me transferring to new offices every three to six months, with no guarantee of a permanent placement once I finished the program. Trying to make a good impression at work while nursing a broken heart and trying to save my son from the school system, the criminal justice system, his peer group, and himself was daunting to say the least. So my job performance was not as good as it should have been, and I was worried that I would not find a placement at all and end up unemployed on top of everything.

But through it all, I was hopeful. I knew that somehow, I would get through it. Now, honestly, I did not know 100% that I would, I mean I had some really dark days, but I kept getting up each morning after crying myself to sleep at night. I often went through periods where I felt like I was ducking and hiding from the next thing that would fall from the sky or that was lurking around the corner. But I was determined to get through this period in my life. I wanted 2013 to be much better than 2012.

This is me in December 2012. I was so ready for that year to be over!
The above picture is me in December 2012. I look at that picture and see a woman that went through hell, but also was hopeful. You can easily see that I was overweight. In fact, I was around 180 lbs, which, on my 5'5 frame, was quite a lot of weight. What you can't see is the fact that in the midst of heartbreak and troubles at work and home, I had managed to train for and complete not only a Ragnar 200-mile relay race, but also my first 1/2 marathon, a trail marathon, no less. Running, I believe, was what saved me in 2012. At the moment that this picture was taken, I was in full acknowledgement that life had thrown me a lot of curveballs in 2012, but I was determined to go into 2013 stronger. I had kept running through all of the struggles of 2012, and I had decided to commit to accomplishing a major goal in 2013, completing a full marathon. I knew it wasn't the race, but the training, the preparation, that would strengthen me even further.

So, in 2013, I really got my running life. I focused on running three times a week, during the two races that I co-led as a run coordinator for Black Girls Run: DC, and once during a neighborhood run led by another team of BGR coordinators. I signed up for the Detroit Free Press Marathon on January 1, 2013. I developed a pre-marathon training schedule as well as a marathon training schedule. I ran 5Ks and other races in the area. I cheered at races and even got my son, who finally turned a corner, to run in his first 5K. And after a summer of training in crazy hot temperatures, on October 20, 2013, I did this:

Crossing the finish line of my first marathon. Picture taken by my son.
 And got this:

Marathon Bling
In 2013, I ran 1,000 miles, completed a full marathon, two half marathons, completed the Holiday Running Streak of running every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day (well, that will be official on 1/1/14), and even snagged a new love (my man reached out to me online after seeing a photo of me in my BGR t-shirt). My son is doing much better in school and is out of trouble with the law. I am in a position at work that challenges me, but that I love and see lots of growth potential. And I also managed to drop 15 pounds in the process of all of that!

December 2013, wearing pants I have not gotten into since 2010. Photo taken by my super hot boyfriend.
I grateful for the pain of 2012 and the progress of 2013. I am looking forward to the promise of 2014. I do not know what will be in the future, que sera sera, but I am determined to go use the lessons from my past as I go forward. I know that I am strong and am capable of handling whatever life throws at me. I know that I can push myself to do more and do better. I look forward to sharing my journey on this blog and in the conversations that I have with others as I embark on new goals in the new year. Let's make it a great one!!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wrapping Up and Starting Up

Happy Boxing Day!! Happy Kwanzaa!! Christmas came and went, and I survived with my running streak in tact. I have run every day since Thanksgiving, and will continue until New Year's Day. Then, I will take a "break" for a couple of days, until my regular Saturday run. It has been hard at times, especially when I had to get up extra early to run before a long day of work and a long night of partying, or when I had to force myself out into the cold at night after shopping and cooking all day. But doing this streak has shown me that it really is about having the mental toughness to tell the inner couch potato to shut up, cause the inner fit diva is going to go for a run.

Also, as of today, I have run 980 miles in 2013. Just 20 miles to go in order to meet my goal of 1,000 miles for 2013. I have been having knee trouble, so the remainder of my runs will be slow and easy, but I will get them in. I also have had to tape my outer thighs and my left foot. My body is telling me that it is being taxed, and I am listening to it, stretching and massaging my muscles. But I am not going to stop until I reach this goal, even if I am running a 13 min. mile the whole way.

Speaking of time, I have been getting a bit faster. I can comfortably run a 9:00 for a good amount of time...I can even get down to an 8:00 for a spell. Part of my early 2014 plans include really focusing on speedwork. It is not my primary goal, as I have decided to do a few things differently in 2014.

I will be starting a new challenge in 2014 (actually, starting  Monday, December 30, 2013). As a teaser, this challenge will include serious work in the gym and kitchen, as well as running and yoga work. The goal is to really move to the next level in my fitness in 2014, with major changes happening by Memorial Day, which is Monday, May 26. 2014. I am making this challenge more public than ever before. I want to share my journey with my friends and family so that they can hold me accountable and so I can serve as an example of how to create and sustain and healthy and fit lifestyle. I'm really looking forward to it, in fact, I am about to do some planning right now.

Happy Holidays!!!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Home Stretch...Surviving the Holidays

I'm trying, but the holiday festivities, the cold weather, and post-marathon lack of direction is making it hard to keep on track. Not impossible, but it is challenging. Since my last post, I have completed another half-marathon, the Richmond Half, which will be my final race for the year. At this point, I am more interested in getting faster and stronger than in racing long distances. In order to do that, I am taking on shorter distances and interval training. My new goal is to get to between a 9-9:30 min. mile for 5Ks and 10Ks. I am close (at about a 10:00) but I still have lots of work to do.

To jump start that, I am participating in the Runner's World Holiday Running Streak. Basically, I will be running at least a mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. I plan on running my three regular runs and in addition, 1-2 miles on the other four days. During two of those days, I am supposed to be in the gym (or at least working out at home) so I will complete the runs prior to doing my gym workouts. The other two days I will have to get feet on pavement or a treadmill...that will be a challenge, but there are a number of women in my running group ( I will write more about them in a later post) who are also doing the challenge and can provide support.

My other goal for the rest of 2013 is to run 1,000 miles. I am at 913 or something like that. I can make it to 1,000 if I run all of my runs plus do about 10 extra miles. Hopefully, I won't put my back to a wall and have to finish the rest of the miles during the last week of the year...

I am currently finishing up a core challenge (planks, leg lifts, and crunches). Once it is done, I will start a plank challenge. I'm hoping the planks will help with my core and my upper body.

I also am gearing myself up to create my goals for 2014. Stay tuned for those...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Find Your Balance

I spend a lot of my time discussing how to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Whether it is on-line or in person, I am surrounded by women and men who are trying to "get they life" when it comes to improving their health. One of the common themes is how to manage all the myriad responsibilities one has while trying to make health a priority.

I cannot say that I have the end all be all method for integrating health and wellness into your life. But I have learned a lot over the years, and I find that those lessons are finally starting to come together. So here are a few of the things that I try to do consistently.

1. Take baby steps. So often we read testimonials on how so and so lost 75 lbs and kept it off by working out twice a day, 6 days a week and eliminating all sugar and unhealthy carbs or becoming a raw food vegan. We may think to ourselves, wow, that really worked well for her. Dang it, if only I had her willpower! Some of us may even go buckwild and throw out all of our favorite junk foods or start buying up all new exercise DVDs and accessories. Be honest now, how long has that lasted? After some time, those things sneak right back into our cabinets and our daily meals, while the exercise gadgets collect dust, and we are right back where we started, but with the added guilt and shame of having failed to have the willpower that others seem to exhibit.

I've discovered that for me, it is much better to make incremental changes in my eating and fitness habits.  One of my favorite things to eat is french fries. I realized that they can be a dangerous gateway drug to eating all types of fast food crap, so I had to put a moratorium on eating french fries at fast food restaurants. What I allowed myself instead was a weekly purchase of frozen french fries. I put those mugs in the oven and season them with (a little) salt, pepper, and garlic, and dip them in some ketchup...sometimes I even drizzle cheese over them. They taste much better than the ones I can get in the drive-through, and I am not tempted to then buy other things, like 1,000 calorie burgers and sugary pop.

I like to make what I consider to be clean-ish meals. They are not 100% clean, but they are not overly processed either. Over time, I swap out the not so healthy things for healthier alternatives. Sometimes, the unhealthy things make a temporary comeback. For years, I made my own salad dressing mix of sometime of oil and some type of acidic, like vinegar or lime juice.  Then, for a little bit, I bought a bottled vinaigrette. I even recently got some bottled blue cheese dressing. I meticulously read the labels in the store first, and found one that was a close to natural as possible. I used it in a pasta salad that I made and my son, my boyfriend, and I ate off of for a week. Even though the store dressing wasn't the healthiest in the world, I know that allowing a small amount of wiggle room in my food habits won't derail me completely.

Likewise for exercising. When training for my October marathon, I started pre-training in January. I committed to three days a week of running, and made sure that those three days worked well for me. Once I got used to doing three days a week, I gradually added in a fourth day. That was in June. At some point in late July to early August, I even had a few five-day weeks of running. That was a really rough time for me, and I could not keep it up for too long, so I went back to four days. Toward the end of my training, I was running 16-20 miles during my Sunday long runs, and there were a few weeks that I "only" ran three days. It wasn't perfect training, but I allowed myself to take those baby steps forward and backward as I needed to. Now that I have finished my marathon, I am back to a three days a week running schedule, and I am gradually adding in yoga and strength training.

2. Plan your work and work your plan. In order to have a healthy and fit life, you need to eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. This is in no way easy to do, but it is nearly impossible to do if you don't plan for it.  I go to bed by midnight (usually earlier) and am up by six every day. This works for me so that I can function throughout the day. This means that I don't stay up watching t.v. and that I am not out partying on the weekends (most of the time...I am occasionally in the streets until early in the morning).

I am not a fan of eating out at restaurants a whole lot. Its expensive, the food is not really that tasty, and most restaurant meals are way too caloric and full of unhealthy fats and sodium. But still, if I have not prepped meals ahead of time, I can find myself at some random food spot, hungry and disgusted at the meals and how much I have to pay. So I work hard at prepping and preparing meals ahead of time. Currently, my meal prep schedule is as follows:

Friday: Decide what the two entrees and the sides will be for the next week. I go to Pinterest, Google, and cookbooks and magazines for ideas.

Friday or Saturday: Go grocery shopping. I tend to buy a easy treat or a restaurant meal to eat for dinner on my grocery shopping day because I don't like to go shopping, then come home and cook.

Sunday: Meal prep day one. One this day, I typically make the dish that I plan on packing for lunch for the week. I also make about half of what I plan on cooking for the week, typically a dish that my son will eat (meat-based) as well as the "grain" (rice, couscous, pasta, or quinoa) and one of the vegetable dishes.

Tuesday: Meal prep day two. I work from home on Tuesdays, so I am able to pop into the kitchen from time to time or right after my work day is complete to make another main dish and any additional vegetable sides. I am quite fond of roasting vegetables. It is quick, easy, and tasty!!! I often roast potatoes (white and sweet), different types of squashes (and their seeds...yummy), eggplant, and carrots.

That's it! I don't like to cook once I come home from work, and I know this, so I make sure that there is food in the fridge for my son and I to eat during the week. I can survive on beans and rice if things get lean, and my son can survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I make sure that we have those staples in the house at all times just in case I fall off of my prep schedule. I also keep fresh and frozen fruit in the house for smoothies and snacks.

My beyond the marathon exercise regimen is currently underway. Right now it is as follows:

Sunday: Morning run 8-10 miles

Monday: Evening upper body strength training at home or at the gym (I find that I am not being that intense at home, so I may try to get to the gym more); Treadmill speed-work 1-3 miles (this has not started yet, but will be incorporated by mid-November)

Tuesday: Morning yoga and core work (I work from home, so I just get it in before I start my work day); Evening treadmill speed-work 1-3 miles (if not done on Monday)

Wednesday: Evening lower body strength training at the gym

Thursday: Evening run 3-7 miles (it depends on who I am running with and what I am training for)

Friday: rest

Saturday: Morning run 3.5-5 miles (it depends on the loop that I run)

Currently, my strength routines are pretty unplanned. I use machines and free weights to hit all the major areas, but I don't really track what I'm doing. In the next few months, I will make them more structured, but right now, I am taking baby steps to get myself used to going to the gym consistently.

My yoga is kind of loosey-goosey right now too. I do yoga videos that I find online or on-demand through Comcast. I plan to start visiting a few yoga studios and taking classes here and there until I find one that I want to go to regularly. I also try to practice yoga throughout the day, focusing on breathing and a few poses. 

I have found throughout my years of striving to be fit and healthy, that taking baby steps and making plans (and following through on them) while being flexible, has served me well. I have a life that is ordered around being fit and healthy, which makes me happy. I hope you can take something from this that will help you to find your balance!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

What's beyond the marathon?

A week ago today I ran my first marathon. I traveled from my home in Maryland back to my hometown of Detroit, Michigan to run the 2013 Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank International Marathon. This blog is a place for me to document how I answer the "what next?" question that everyone, including myself, keeps asking me. I look forward to the journey ahead.