Friday, January 13, 2012

Oh, that's why they call it 'Fit for Life'!

Where was I a year ago? That's right: bummed and tubby from six months non-weight-bearing after that whole broken-legs marathon debacle.

I burned some crutch weight that November, spinning 2-3 hours a day, running most days of the week, doing boot camp and Tracy Anderson videos, all in an insane effort to win my work's "step challenge." Yeah, I swept the prizes.

Six months free fitness center was tops. But I wasn't sure about the person training program, "Get Fit for Life," that I'd won. Why did I need a fitness program? I could run. Far. Sometimes fast. And I biked o-plenty and lifted moderately heavy things. I was fit as a fiddle, right?


I started working with my trainer, Melissa, at One to One Fitness last January. In fact, the winter program starts the week of Jan. 16, if you're interested. She did an initial evaluation (i.e., push-ups, heart rate, weight, stair-stepping, etc.) and accepted my insane history.

First couple weeks were getting-to-know-you workouts — what could I do, what was I willing to do, how hard would I work. It didn't take Melissa long to realize that I'm more than a little crazy and want to be The Hulk, yet still feminine and without Madonna arms. Oh, and I wanted to lose 10 pounds.

Over the eight-week program, I lost eight pounds, as well as plenty of body fat and inches. Sure, my eating habits changed, my body composition improved and I felt much stronger. I was healthier. But there was much more to this program than the myriad cardio and strengthening exercises I'd take with me and totally deserving new pants.

Not a second thought was needed for me to buy a training package with Melissa once the program ended. In fact, there's nothing I've felt was a more worthy investment. Ever.

What's the big deal? Well, backstory: I'm a super-nerd. Like nerdiest to the maximus.

So, personal training works for me because a) I think correct form is important (for effectiveness and safety) and my trainer keeps me true; b) I like to push myself, but love to be pushed beyond my expectations by someone who knows how far is too far; c) I need to do exercises I hate doing, that hurt the most and that I wouldn't do if she didn't make me!

Another bonus: weekly appointments keep me on track. My life change a lot this fall and my scheduled wasn't always amenable to my regularly scheduled workouts. But I respect my trainer and my training program. Even if a few days escaped me, I'd look at the calendar and realize Tuesday was fast approaching. It was time to slough off the rust and get working again. Who wants to show up to your training appointment bloated and tired? Not me. So, I never get more than a few days off course. Without training? I could have gotten lost for months before realizing the mess I've made.

The other nerd factor: I see training appointments as test days. It's my responsibility to work hard all week to perform my best come training day. I value the expertise and support Melissa gives me. The least I can do is work hard on what she assigns and deliver results. After all: this wonderful woman puts up with me, all my self-criticism, projectile sweat and snotting.

Sure, I don't always perform my best. But she's there to help me understand why and encourage me to power on.

Then there's, well, everyone else at One to One Fitness. Remember Cheers? Well, it's kind of like that, but less beer and barstools, more smoothies and treadmills. And that hasn't always been my experience of gyms. I love that trainers and staff care enough to talk to me, share their lives as much as they ask about mine and, of course, know my name. If I go a couple days without visiting One to One, I feel like I'm ditching my friends. I miss the spirit in that place. I miss feeling happy and being healthy.

Yes, it goes even further. Having a crap time at my job last year, I had a couple offers in the corporate world for, well, about 50% more pay than I get here. There were plenty of reasons within my office, the university and a hoped-for future that kept me here.

But I'd be lying if I didn't think about One to One when making that decision. How would I make it to my training appointments with Melissa? When would I make it to One to One to workout? Could the new job give me an office right next to One to One to make my active life easier?

It's one seriously dependent relationship I have with that place. And I'm OK with that.

Silly as it sounds, my being wrong about how much I needed that "Get Fit for Life" program opened my mind about what I really know about other things I need to embrace. Like lima beans and Will Ferrell movies. (Oh, wait... not that much).

2011 was a trying year, rife with challenges — both fantastic and horribly painful — that I'm sure will pay off in the long run. No matter what happened, I was always anchored to one thing that was always fantastic. And that's the kind of thing — that staple, that assurance — that keeps you healthy all your life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tri, tri again... again

Remember when I used to race instead of writing about how I used to race?

Yeah. Me, neither.

Well, Sunday I broke the two-year tri hiatus with a sprint at Huntington. It was the usual setup: I'd overdone one discipline and left the other two as problems for "future Gina." I've been running maybe once a week... and let's just say I've only been swimming twice — 2500 yards and 1500 yards — since December 2009. And those were both last week.

Cycling, however, has been spinning high. I'm biking at least 25 miles every day. I ride a refurbished Centurion LeMans, whose high-grade steel frame is surprisingly light and more than sturdy enough for my daily commute. Throw in a couple panniers, way too much clothes and a 17-inch MacBook Pro in the trunk, and I may as well be riding with a parachute and ankle weights (hello, Jerry Rice!). While I haven't been riding fast — some mornings are harder than others — I've been covering mileage I would have thought crazy a couple years ago.

You already know I'm going to say the biggest difference has been strength training, which I've been doing five days a week since January. But it's not all about heavy weight-lifting (while there's been plenty of that). Between working with Melissa and Ben, I've done all manner of strength and cardio training that often leaves me questioning their sanity and mine. Although I'm always grateful for it. Like two or thee days later.

What's the diff? Running: I can feel activation of different muscle groups to get this toosh moving. So much of my power came from the middle of my legs last year — and obviously, it left through the shins. Now most power and impact comes and goes higher in my leg, and when I reach fatigue, my body triggers more action from my hamstrings, glutes and some quad. I have a stronger stride now, a healthier stride. There's plenty of speed and twitch. Now I need just a smidge of mental fortitude back... to replace all the paranoia that's taken over my will.

Swimming: well, I up and swam 2500 yards like it was nothing, without so much as looking at a pool for two years. It felt fine. It probably wasn't as fast as two years ago, but I'll take it.

All this in mind, I considered Huntington my walk-through tri. It was my "cross-training-only" tri. During a year I'm trying to take it easy, I could afford (ego-wise, that is — I'm not exactly going anywhere with my racing "career") to take a test ride. So, I did.

But not without a whole slew of reservations. Which bike should I ride? Could I do the swim? What should I wear for the swim? When was the last time I ran? Have I done a brick workout this decade? Right up through the ride to Bay Village, I was questioning why and whether I should be doing this stuff again.

Then I got smacked with the magic of triathlon. The people, the energy, the bike porn. This is why I keep doing this schtuff:

Huntington Beach pre race

Lake Erie was pristine and perfect. My friend Katie was waiting, ready and raring to rock her first duathlon. My dad, NB and his sister KB came out at 6 a.m. to cheer. And it made my morning to hang with TriSaraTops on the beach before the start (you're such a rockstar, lady!). I warmed up in perfect-temps water and was ready to go, go, go!

But then we had to wait, wait, wait.

I think blue-capped, 39-and-under ladies were the fifth wave, beach entry. Run-ins always give me nerves, mostly because last time I raced Huntington I got punched in the face so hard my goggles exploded, and I swam the quarter-mile, panicked, delicate and slow, like an old lady wearing curlers, trying not to get her hair wet. Lucky for my nerves, however, this beach start went single file, all across the shore. I took the way-inside, ran in and stayed back from kicking feet and flailing hands. No-contact start. Rawk!

I swam calm, warm-up speed to the first buoy and readied for my open-water panic moment (that's where I hit the parallel stretch and freak out). Sure, I felt strong, but I had to take a couple seconds breaststroking to calm myself. Then I tore it up.

Not that I'm in peak shape, but I felt stronger than swims of old — as if I could swim forever, even if it wasn't very fast. There was a pretty decent group of blue caps ahead of me. As I rounded the final buoy, though, I decided no one left in the water was going to beat me. So, I picked them off, one by one, until I ran out of the water in 8:33.

Running out of the water at Huntington

Not my best swim, but a great ROI, all things considered.

Then the bike. I'll start by saying I pedaled a race-PR 40:25 for 12.2 miles (18.1 mph). So, at face value, I'm pretty happy. But here's how it went down...

First, I brought the wrong helmet (big ol' Bern instead of the Specialized racer), forgot to put on my watch, didn't bring water and then, a couple minutes into the ride, my seatpost dropped all the down, so I felt like I was riding a beach cruiser! I was riding pretty hard, nevertheless, and even took out some serious sprints to set up a couple rabbits to pace me. Let's forget about the SUV that nipped my arm, driving too close at a turn, and we're thinking this is going to be one helluva a ride.

And it was. I was FLYING! We cut into the woods, where it was dark, damp and dense. Lots of questionable passing, hard-ass riding. Then I heard some catty back-and-forth about passing, get-out-of-my-way, left-left-left! This tall, super-skinny biotch was flying through the woods spitting a lot of back-and-forth with another rider. They were fast approaching my pack, when the biotch cut off the other rider hard and sent her flying. Lucky for her, she fell mostly in mud and didn't impale herself on any branches. Unlucky for her, she just bashed her head on a tree and none of the 10 riders in eyeshot were stopping.

It was a packed course, so I had to stop super fast. Well, it was wet and narrow. I started skidding and my bike spun out into the mud. I twisted my knee and kicked out the bike before I took most of the impact on my left hip and arm. Let's just say, it didn't feel great then; it feels worse now. Thankfully: minimal scraping! I got her feet out of clips and pulled the bike off her. She said she felt fine to stand up, so I gave her water, made sure she had no telltale signs of internal bleeding or head trauma, and took off to tell volunteers there had been a crash.

While I'd lost a few minutes, I rode pretty pissed for a few miles, livid that only one person in a very amateur triathlon would stop for a very serious crash. Good bye, faith in humanity! God forbid you miss out on an age group medal while someone lay dying. Grr.

By bike's end it was just plain hot outside. I reported the accident, changed shoes, finally slugged down some water and took it easy for 5K. Note to self: brick workouts will be helpful in the future. Most of the run was pretty shady, running out and back on an all-purpose Metroparks trail. It was way awesome to see Katie wrapping up the back end of her 5K, catching sight of Sara and even seeing where the cycling rabbits were. I finished with some uphill kick (thanks, Ben, for those 10% grade quarter-mile sprints!) in 26:26 (8:32 pace) for a total time of 1:22:52. Hear me roar.


Katie and I celebrated the wonder that is racing (and the wonderfulness that is Lake Erie) with a post-race swim, plenty of cookies and plenty of good intentions for next-race preparation. Lessons learned: pack better, run more and bring water. At least I don't need to remind myself to have fun.

Next up: Greater Cleveland Triathlon, probably Olympic distance. I was pretty gung-ho about Rev3 70.3 in September before this race, but the jury's stepped out. They should be back after GCT.

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's that time of year... again.

You know, that time of year I look at the number of weeks left until Hermes, until Cleveland and say, 'aw, crap.'

Since January I've been working with a trainer at the fitness center on campus (Some catch-up: I ended up winning that step challenge, whose prizes included an eight-week fitness program, six months gym membership and a surprisingly not awkward lunch with my team and some university senior VPs. I'd been loving bootcamp for three months until my work schedule just didn't have room for it. Just in time: the fitness program, an eight-week personal-training deal focused on strength building and weight loss, kicked off in January. I lost my crutch weight — I'm keeping most of it off from week to week — and couldn't remember how I'd existed before working with Melissa. Not only can I do pull-ups and like a gazillion push-ups, I feel better, stronger, fitter overall.) and doing most of my training in the wee a.m. hours or during lunch.

While my cardio is very sound and strength way up, I can't say I've done the volume of running I'd typically do training for any race — particularly a half. But here I am: April 4, and I've been running 1-2 times a week. I've actually felt very comfortable on the 2-3 long runs I've done over the past month or so. More recently, I've started doing intervals and sprints. Part of me is very surprised how well I've been able to run (very relatively speaking here!) without much training. If nothing else, it's definitely made me a believer in serious strength training! It does leave me wondering what to expect for my races, however.

On one hand, I'm very determined to lay low this year: I'd like to give my bones plenty of time to get stronger, my muscles time and training to develop and protect my bones. The idea of stress my bones too much stresses me out. And it's not like my racing career is going anywhere. I'm very average. I'm very OK with that. Sure, I'd like to improve in the long run, but not at the cost of walking.

On the other hand, I feel like I have a whole different kind of fitness now. This time last year, I was in my best racing shape yet (I'm still proud of my 7:40 pace in the Hermes 10-miler!). Looking back at my training schedule, however, I know that I wasn't really running as much as you'd think. There's a reason I got hurt — I wasn't doing the work. Now I'm doing the work, just in a different way. It's less about miles; it's more holistic. Which begs the question: how much was an improvement in fitness last year and how much was an improvement in my mental game?

Part of me feels compelled to see how well I can race now. The other part knows I've lost far too much mental fortitude. I don't have the ability [right now] to ignore the burn, the pain of pushing myself beyond my thresholds. In fact, I still get flashbacks to bone pain when I run with a certain cadence. I don't hurt; I'm not injured. In my bones, that is. I'm just a big mental wuss.

Nevertheless, I registered for the Cleveland Half next month. NB's running his first too! I'm so eager for him to experience his first distance race that I keep forgetting I'm running it too (no, we're not running together).

Part of me wants to put this low-mileage, high-strength training to the test. Seriously: how fast can I go? While I can't expect a PR out of this race, I'm interested to see what I'm made of... now.

Another part of me, meanwhile, wants to jog it and enjoy every step of being able to run 13.1 miles a year after I broke myself running 26.2.

A final part of me, the fiercely competitive with no one but myself part, wants to race balls out, as if last year never happened. But I'm happy with whom I've become out of all that leg-breaking stuff. I am stronger. I'm happier. I enjoy running and fitness more. Maybe that doesn't translate to faster. Maybe I need to assess what success means to me this time around.

Whatever happens, I just want to be worrying about all these things next year around this time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weeks 4-6: Smarten up by being dumb.

So, you know about my biggest issue — you know, the "eh, screw it!" problem. It has powered the weighty rollercoaster I've been riding since I was... 15, maybe.

"Eh, screw it!" is that heartbreaking (but frequently delicious) moment when for whatever reason I overindulge myself into the guilt sweats. It used to be a Thursday-night tradition that would last all the way to Sunday night. But this week, I finally had a break.

See, I was retaining some serious water last week. Even though I was getting in some incredible workouts, eating way right and feeling fab, I stepped on the scale Thursday morning to see... 129.0. (Insert expletives here.)

I was crushed! All that work for nothing. Sure, I knew it was a bad week for weigh-ins, but I was hoping for the best. And hope, it turns out, isn't a weightless thing. That and fem cycles weight a ton.

So, I stood at that crossroads: all that sacrifice and hardwork... and I gained two pounds: do I throw in the towel and be happy with my big butt? Or do I accept that not every week will deliver a weigh-in victory?

Thursday wasn't so bad. I made test-batch #1 of candied jalapeno-gingersnap bread pudding (it's for Thanksgiving), and only ate slightly more than I should have. But it wasn't a wasted diet day. Then something snapped on Friday. I don't even remember when it started or how it happened. I do remember there being a lot of chocolate, plenty of cookie cake, even more plenty of cookie cake frosting, too many bowls of Cinnamon Life, Crunch bars, 100 Grand bars... and that icky, icky feeling. You don't get more "eh, screw it!" than that.

It may have just been crazy-lady must-have-chocolate emotions. Exhaustion. Whatever. The difference between this moment and pretty much every other "eh, screw it!" weekend, however, was that I cut it super short.

I woke up early on Saturday, got eating right from the start. I cut way back in a healthy way on my calories that day (still maxed the protein), drank oodles of water and tea, and completed a challenging day of workouts and housework. Same for Sunday. While I realized all wouldn't be saved by two days of super-behaving, I hoped I'd at least not go up on the Monday-morning weigh-in.

Efforts rewarded.

When last I wasn't retaining too much water, I weighed in at 127.4. This morning I was 126.2. So, I'm just a tad behind on my pound-a-week quest, and more than five pounds down from the starting line. I'll take it!

But "eh, screw it!" faces a seriously challenge this week: Thanksgiving 2010. Not only am I eating the family dinner, I'm cooking it too.

My bootcamp trainer does a great job of passing on useful diet/fitness info. One of the recent articles was about preparing yourself for the big holiday dinner, avoiding a bulge battle and gearing up to not overdo it. Sure it sounds a little bit crazy, but admitting you have a problem is the first step. Step #2 is doing something about it.

So, here my now: I will break into the 125's by Thursday morning weigh-in and not weigh more on Monday morning.

Dear Thanksgiving,

You will not defeat me this year. You are delicious. But you are my bitch.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Week three: Let me hold that water for you.

Step challenge reports were due at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and I was really pumped to turn in 571,504 steps for my team-of-five! The goal is 70,000 steps per person per week; my team averaged 114,300.

You'll be happy to know I didn't do all the steps for them. They're just awesome.

What was I responsible for? 204,611. It averages to 29,230/day, which I'd like to take up to 30,000/day this week. While it's easy to pick up 35-40K steps on boot camps days when I cycle for 45-60 minutes in the morning, boot camp for an hour and then run for another 30-45 minutes, less intense days are harder to step up.

I tried to even out my "rest" days with a pretty intense weekend: close to four hours cycling, plenty of dance cardio, circuit training and aerobics. On Friday I decided to aim for a 100K weekend — 50,000 steps each day — but I only eeked out about 82K.

The 100K killer was my tight right calf. I'm done taking chances, so I laid off running for the weekend, which would have surely put me over the 100K line. Another weekend is here, and another shot at 100K.

The problem with 100K, however, is it takes so much time. While I'm used to devoting plenty of time to fitness, 100K might be taking a little more of it than I'm able to give right now. Thanksgiving is fast approaching — I have rooms to prime and paint, curtains to hang and mantels to perfect. At least plenty of those activities have step conversions, so it won't be a total wash.

What also hasn't been a total wash is the weight-loss plan. I'd pie-in-the-sky dreamed the step challenge would magically melt away pounds, but turns out I still like pie and foods that purposely melt.

Actually, the diet hasn't been that bad: I had my trainer analyze my nutrition log — yes, I included the sweet binges that I've cut back on ubermuch — and the usual suspect (protein) wasn't appearing in enough of the scenes. I had thought that 50g of protein were sufficient for me; he suggests 60-100g per day for my activity level. Makes sense.

I struggled the past week to fit in that extra protein without a ton of calories. Sure, you can throw in some balsamic grilled chicken breast, but how many times can you eat that? I made a pretty decent salmon salad and figured other ways to add animal to my diet.

The problem is I've been really content with what I've been eating the past few weeks (and I don't really like animal). Plus, it's been effective for my weight-loss plan. So, I'm going to try adding a sunny-side-up egg atop my morning oatmeal, continue eating my daily protein bar and gnaw on a chicken breasts in lieu of an afternoon snack.

All that food adjustment, however, through the pound-a-weight off a bit. My Monday weigh-in was higher, per usual. And this morning I weighed in at 127.4 — 0.2 pound off last week.

According to my scale and how I feel, I know I'm retaining plenty of water, despite how much water I drink every day. So, I'm going to hope for the best next weigh-in. Just bad time of the month to be weighing myself, I suppose.

Perhaps by next week I will have given all that water back, stayed on diet track and entered the realm of 126 — a place I haven't visited in quite some time. I welcome you dear random number. I welcome you with open arms.