Be Competitive…With Yourself

32 weeksThe other day I was doing one of my long runs (over 13 miles) and feeling great. Nothing was hurting (unbelievable) and my pace was decent compared to recent runs. About 4 miles out a woman passed me as if I was standing still. For about 20 seconds my heart sank. I’m too slow, I thought and it took a lot of effort to get that thought out of my head.

flowerbloomsI spent the next 2 miles telling myself:

You aren’t competing with her;
       you are competing with yourself.

This is a difficult lesson for me.  I don’t think of myself as very competitive, but I guess at some level I am. When I look at other runners (strangers, friends, family) I always feel like a failure. I’m too slow, it takes me forever to improve, blah, blah, blah. But when I look at myself and how far I’ve come and how much better I am than I was, I can’t help but feeling like a superwoman. Obviously I’m better off focusing my energy inward, don’t you think?

dontlookbackIn High School we were supposed to run a mile for gym class and I could barely walk it. Only a few years ago I periodically needed a cane to walk. I remember walking over the Brooklyn Bridge with my family and being totally crippled by the task. When I first started running it took 14 or 15 min to run a mile. The idea that I would ever run a half-marathon was inconceivable, but  I’ve already run over 13 miles (twice and counting) and my regular pace fluctuates around 11 min miles (12 or 13  min miles on those really long runs and under 10 in my last race).

And I’m not done improving. In 32 weeks I’ll be 50, but I’m faster, stronger, and braver than I’ve ever been in my whole life. And I got this way– not by looking at other people– but by constantly competing with my old self.


13.1 Miles (Unofficially)

13point1funToday I ran 13.1 miles for the first time.  I say for the first time because my race is still 6 weeks away. I’m hoping to run this distance (maybe a little farther) a few times before the actual race. Even if I don’t, today was a big accomplishment. I proved to myself that I can do it (something I haven’t been totally sure of).

Today’s run was brutal. It wasn’t the “joy of running” that I frequently blog about. It was more like the “slog of running.”  I had to wake up early (6 am) to try to beat the heat of the day. Even at that it was about 80˚F/76% humidity when I left the house, and in the high 80s when I finished the run.  The first 6 or 7 miles were fine, but after that I really had to convince myself to keep going… Every! Single! Mile!

get strongerMost of what made the run difficult is my own attitude. I know it is hot, so I should run slower. I know that it is a longer run than what my body is used to, so I should run slower. I know that I beat my goal time (3 hours) by almost 17 minutes. Yet the nasty voices in my head wouldn’t let me just relax into the run. I kept pushing to go faster and the more I pushed the harder the run got.

Around mile 8 I noticed that my toenails were hurting. Really?? It was all I could think about for a good portion of the run. How my pinky toenails were going to fall off… Oh please could they just fall off and put me out of my misery.

Towards the end I almost gave up.  I’m not sure what pushed me to go the last few miles.  Maybe it was the knowledge that, good or bad, I was going to post about the run afterwards. Maybe it was the constant stream of positive self-talk, as I desperately tried to be my own coach. My mantra sounded something like this:

long runYou can do it. Don’t fall. Don’t quit.  Keep going. Just 3 more miles. Oh, I like this song. A little faster. Don’t fall down. C’mon, you can do this. Just 2 more miles. You can run 2 miles easy. Don’t trip. Watch out for that car. Keep it up. Just 1 mile left… and so on.

Whatever it was, I did finish the full 13.1. I was dripping with sweat.  Every bone and muscle was sore. My toenails were painfully cutting into my toes. My stomach was starting to cramp. And I don’t know when I’ve ever felt that good.

And I can’t wait to try it again!

Don’t Get Hurt

37 weeksI am almost 50 (37 weeks shy, to be exact) And here I am training for a half marathon. What if I get sick? What if I get hurt?

ankle2One thing I needed to learn (and I keep having to relearn, because, hey, I’m a slow learner) is that you can’t help yourself if you hurt yourself.  Negative self-talk is one way to hurt yourself emotionally, but in this instance I’m  talking about physically getting hurt. Sometimes you can’t help it (a car comes out of nowhere or you get sick or you trip on your own feet), but many times injuries are a function of overdoing it. Running too much and not taking rest days. Running in the dark. Running on unmarked trails in the woods. (FYI: I’m completely guilty of doing all of these, even though I know better.)

When I had my serious operation almost two years ago (which eventually became the catalyst to my transformation) I let myself heal slowly. I did a little bit more every day and worked my way back to health. It was a good plan.

yogaIf I got sick like that today I would have a much harder time being patient. I would want to rush my recovery (I see this every time I get sick) But time and again my experience has shown me that long-term results depend on short-term patience. And listening to your body. When something hurts, aches, or twinges – do something: Rest it, ice it, heat it, or get it treated!

My new rule is “If my mom or daughter told me these symptoms, what would I tell them to do.” And then I do that. Because I know I would give them the best care possible and the best advice possible. And I deserve just as much.


No “Rest Days” for the Wicked

minionTo prepare for my upcoming half-marathon I’m following a training program from (my favorite app/site for running). It tells me how far to run, which days to take an easy run, which days to work on pace, etc. It also tells me which days are “rest days.” Oddly enough, when the program tells me to run 6, 7, or 8 miles I’m fine. It’s the “rest” I’m having trouble with.

It’s not that I run every day. On a good week I get in 5 runs, but most weeks I average 4. Generally speaking, though, my reasons for not running have to do with living an actual life: Work obligations, family responsibility, social engagements, etc. The app is somewhat flexible in that it lets me re-organize my week so that I can coordinate rest days with life events and everything is fine. But what happens when I have a rest day on a day when I have nothing better to do?


I’m really not good at resting, even when it is for my own good.  Rest days are important because they prevent injury and enables your immune system to repair muscles and joints. I know I can do other things: walk, yoga, swim… but all I keep thinking is, “I should be running.” And sometimes I do run on my rest days – even though I know better.

rest dayI’m smart enough to recognize that my body wants to rest. Too many days of running with no breaks makes my muscles tighter and I actually run slower. But inside I feel badly about not running: Like I’m lazy. Like I’m goofing off. Like I’m back-sliding. As if one day of rest is going to undo my months of training. (Actually research shows that it takes about two-weeks of not training to impact fitness and performance)

I know this is ridiculous. Even as I type the words I’m thinking, you are being ridiculous. But there you have it. It is just one more way I sabotage myself. So here I am really, definitely, positively not running today. Probably.

Unit Foods

I have said a few times on this blog how I just couldn’t deal with another diet again and maybe I’ve been a bit negative about my time on Weight Watchers. The truth is, I once lost over 100 lbs on Weight Watchers. I kept it off for years, too, until I didn’t and gained it all back (plus a little extra). For me, the problem with WW is that it becomes a game: What can I get away with and still lose weight. Also, it focuses so much on the weight loss, which becomes counter-productive. You can only maintain that for so long.

Technically a cookie is a unit food. You aren't going to eat one and a quarter cookies are you? Let's be clear: Just being a unit food doesn't make it healthy. It just makes it easy to measure.

Technically a cookie is a unit food. You aren’t going to eat one and a quarter cookies are you? Let’s be clear: Just being a unit food doesn’t make it healthy. It just makes it easy to measure.

I did learn some helpful things in WW, that I continue to use today. Going to all those meetings, I learned a lot about what is in foods. I had this one leader, Margot, that I loved. She was the only leader I ever met that made sense to me. Among her many words of wisdom, she taught me the term “unit food.”

unit food is a food that comes in single serving size. You don’t have to measure or weigh. You just get one unit. Food’s that are naturally unit foods are apples, eggs, and hot dogs. While it is possible to eat half of an apple or two eggs, you don’t accidentally consume an extra 2 oz of these foods when you serve yourself. The advantage of unit foods is you aren’t fooling yourself.

yogurtSome foods can be purchased as unit foods. For example, the Fage® yogurt that I eat every single day comes in single serve containers. I also purchase frozen yogurt (Healthy Choice) and Sabra Hummus in single serve. Frequently these foods are more expensive, because you are paying for the wrapping. However, it is worth it. When I buy a large (multi-serve) container of yogurt, for example, I find it is a struggle to make sure I have the proper serving. Some days I’m a little more generous than others. So it is better for me to pay a little extra and have a serving I can just grab-and-go.

Some foods aren’t available as unit foods or are too expensive that way. Whenever I can, I try to make my own unit foods. For example, I buy a big bag of almonds and measure out 1 oz into snack-size plastic bags. I also make a big pot of rice and beans every week, and then measure out single servings into plastic containers.  Technically they aren’t unit foods, but once I’ve measured and sealed them, they sort of are. It isn’t likely that I’m going to open up another plastic container and eat a few bites of rice and beans. If there was a big pot or bowl of it, I probably would, but once it’s been sectioned out, I pretty much can stick to the sections.

All of this is to say, you need to find tricks that work for you to get control over the food. For me, it’s unit foods and eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch every single day. For you it might be something else.

Not too cocky, now…

So I saw this on one of the blogs I follow:

Now, in the past this is where I would have gotten cocky and said ok let’s make this mile portion of the goal more difficult. Then something would happen and I would not be able to do as well as I thought I would, I would get discouraged and then give up and end up barely missing my original goal.

Accept the days when running seems impossible; Embrace the days when running seems effortless.

Or as I like to call it, yesterday and today.

And this little thought has been niggling at me since I read it. And when something starts niggling, I just have to write about it.

Yesterday when I ran everything hurt. My ankles. My knees. My back.  It was a tough run and I pushed just to get through it. By contrast, today’s run was great. My first two miles were two of my fastest ever. And just for fun, I ran another two, more slowly, just because I was feeling so darn good.

On days like today I start thinking that my 3,000,000 step goal is too low. Or my 8,000 steps per day is too low. Ha! I can easily do 4,000,000 steps this year, or 10,000 steps per day. I can run every day. And faster. And farther. And….

And that is where I get myself into trouble.  I know from experience that  if I overdo it, I’m going to hurt myself and set myself back. I try to remember how far I’ve come. Right now I’m running better than I ever have, in my entire life. I feel good about it. I enjoy it more. But there is that lurking risk of injury just waiting at the periphery. So I need to settle back, and push myself just enough but not too much. And for this reason, I’m not changing my goal.

At least not now. If I hit 3,000,000 steps in November, or even October, I can always change my goal then. Or not. Or I can come up with a brand new goal. Right now, the important thing is that I’m going to do those 3,000,000 steps, and the 12,000 steps I did today just got added into the pile.

In Which Natural Peanut Butter Gets The Ax!

ImageMy usual afternoon snack is usually a 2 oz (single serve) of hummus and either sugar snap peas or carrots. This is what I eat on my commute home. It travels well, tastes delish, and gives me enough of a boost to get me from lunch (rice and beans) to dinner (protein and veg). Occasionally I would substitute natural peanut butter (the kind you have to stir) spread thinly on apple slices.

It’s that word “occasionally.” At first, occasionally was one or two times a week.  I was really spare with the peanut butter, knowing that while it was a good source of protein it was also super high in (healthy) fats. But it was such a great late afternoon pick-me-up that soon occasionally was two or three times a week. And sometimes it was in addition to the hummus. And sometimes it was more than a thin schmear on the apple.

You can buy peanut butter in single servings. Jif makes these 2 oz tubs that I buy for my daughter. Single serve is always better for me for anything, because I have difficulty with the weighing and the measuring and the counting. Blah! But I really only want to eat whole and natural foods, so I buy the jars of natural and try to keep things reasonable.

This week I realized that “occasionally” had really become “daily.” It was mid-week and I realized my routine had slightly altered to where I was counting on that peanut butter.  And that 2 tbs had really become 3 tbs. At the time I thought, “Well, let’s see how my weigh-in goes.” but as the week progressed I felt the urge to eat peanut butter get stronger and stronger.

And so that’s what decided it for me. It isn’t about if I gain or lose weight. (I actually lost this week) It is about the control that foods have on my life. When I feel a compulsion to eat, or the inability to stop after a normal serving, that is a food that needs to be cut out. That is the whole point of my cold-turkey regime. That is why it is working.

And that is why Natural Peanut Butter is on the “Do Not Eat” list, along with everything else. And the reason I’m writing this post is so that I’m committed to it and don’t go back on my word.

Setting Goals

Where has the time gone? My last post was about coming up with a New Years’ Resolution. Well, New Years has come and gone and what have I been doing? Well, not blogging, I’ll tell you that.

Here are some of the things that have kept me busy since my last post:

  • Christmas Win (this year)
  • New Years Eve – went to a party with my brother.  Big Win this took a lot more nerve than you might think
  • Epiphany – major holiday in my family and soo much fun Soo Much Win
  • 5 trips to Baltimore in as many weeks Business Win, Personal Fail
  • Winning major fight with my daughter’s school Parenting Win and you know how rare those are
  • Watching the first season of Dollhouse Time Management Fail, but Fun
  • Reading Roots by Alex Haley among Intellectual Win (most of what I read is trivial fiction)
  • Meeting two writing deadlines  Business Win, Time Management Win
  • Three major winter storms Mood Swing Fail
  • Eating Gluten Free for almost ten days Stupid diet Fail
  • Lost power twice Man vs Nature Fail
  • Didn’t bounce any checks Financial Win
  • Driving my car into a snow bank, got stuck for four hours, and tore out my car’s exhaust system Ziggy Fail
  • Paying the wrong landscape company $150 Financial Fail
  • Buying a New Pocketbook Style Fail (sooooo much Fail)
  • Using a cane to walk for two weeks.  Health Fail Not using the cane anymore. Relief Win
  • Start taking guitar lessons Lost Youth Win
  • Rereading an old twitter post that says I want to run 5K before I turn 45 Setting Goals Fail
  • Realizing I’m turning 45 in less than 2 months. Chronology Fail

Gulp! I set that goal when I got the treadmill in my house. I’m happy to say the treadmill does not have any laundry on it at all. I’m sorry to say the cats use it more than I do.

I spent two weeks walking with a cane recently and I’m not sure that running 5k is a reasonable goal. Having said that, I’m feeling older than I am and I want to do something positive for myself. So, since I never set any resolutions back in January, I’ve decided to make three February resolutions:

  1. In 2011 I will walk two times per week or more. Any length walk will count because I tend to hurt myself when I overdo it.
  2. In 2011 I will enter some type of race or walkathon or public event to celebrate my new activity.
  3. In 2011 I will continue to blog about my life, paying more attention to the Wins than the Fails.

Does it seem like I’m being to easy on myself? Considering where I’m starting it feels like climbing Mt. Everest to me. The old me, the stronger me, would have come up with better resolutions, but really all I want to do is be able to walk a mile without having to stop for breath and feel my body move in a positive way.

Well, Happy Belated New Years, anyway.

Under-eating – the first self-sabotage

Ok, so today I spent about an hour and a half in the grocery story, buying healthy, pro-diet foods. Lots of veggies, fresh fruits, and low-fat proteins. I really tried to limited my pre-packaged, convenience foods to only a few things, like Freezer Ices and single-serve bags of baked Lays. As my once-upon-a-time mentor Margot used to say, I shopped the perimeter of the store, where the real-food lives.

First, some background: This foray into an actual “grocery store” is rare for me. I generally have my foods delivered, either groceries via Peapod or meals via a local fast-food establishment. Actually trekking to the grocery store myself seemed like an important investment in my new plan and I was shocked on two significant counts:

  • How very, very long it takes to shop. Walking up and down isles, checking expiration dates and nutritional values, waiting on line. Not something I want to get into every week. Plus I had to lug bags and bags of food in through a downpour, and then find room in my cramped kitchen for everything I bought. It was exhausting.
  • How expensive it is. I spent more than double what I would normally spend on groceries. I justify this to myself by saying I will save money by not eating out so very much, but I still had sticker-shock at the register.

I realize as I write this that I must sound like  a self-indulgent princess, but I want to be honest: For someone who thinks as much about food as I do, I realize that I spend very little time or effort on the foods I eat. I like good food, but I have no desire to fetch it, cook or prepare it, or, for that matter, clean up after it.

So after this draining domestic experience, I found myself looking at a fully stocked, Jillian-Michaels-would-be-proud larder and thought to myself, I don’t have anything to eat.

Uh, yeah….

I ended up grabbing foods that didn’t need preparing. Hummus and chips; apple with peanut butter; cottage cheese and carrots. All fine choices individually, but when added up do not make a healthy  food plan. When I first started writing, I thought that this post was going to be about me, the grocery store, and the experience I had there, but as I was typing my food choices into my online diary and I looked at how my calories were spent during the day and even over this past week, I noticed an interesting trend:

Each day I was eating less and less than the day before.

My first day I went over my recommended calories by 588. (Big Red Exclamation Point!!!) The next day I barely squeaked into my desired range. Each day my calories consumed were lower and lower until I hit today and I haven’t eaten even 2/3 of the recommended daily. Not a big deal on a given day, but I realize that I’ve done this before. Many, many times, and it isn’t good. It is the first sign of self-sabotage. One (and by one I mean me) can be so self-disciplined and so regimented about staying on an eating plan that food becomes the enemy. Each day becomes a contest with your own will power about staying on the straight and narrow. And it all works fine until you hit “that day.”

You know that day. The day everything goes wrong in your life. Work is extra stressful, your family is insensitive, your car breaks down, your cat knocks over your favorite plant, and your hot water heater craps out while you have soap in your eyes…and you just can’t take it any more. And you’re hungry. I’m sorry, you’re huuuuuuuungry! (Hear the whine in my voice?) And whatever willpower you had up and walks out on you.

So now I’m looking at myself at 11:00 at night, with 650 calories left to my day and instead of seeing victory, I’m seeing myself get in my own way. Again.

This isn’t about the food because, as I said, the food is there in my fridge. It is about me. And if I’m really making a commitment to this I need to stop getting in my own way. So, I’m going to bed a little bit hungry (because I’m certainly not going to cook something at this late hour) but waking up with a new resolve. Eating all of my calories, making them good, healthy protein and vitamin rich calories, and not empty ones. And making a commitment to food.

I’ll let you know how it goes.