Friday, June 28, 2013

July 2013 Goals

I, Tara, have been working on a blog post that I started after having a very “run happy” run the other day but my subsequent runs have not been so “run happy”.  I am having a hard time finishing the post.  I am not upset about my less than happy runs.  As a runner I know it comes with the territory.  Runners (and triathletes) are such a unique breed -- able to endure the unendurable, able to push to a place of mental/physical discomfort, able to survive failure because we know sweet success is just a heartbeat away.  I just can’t finish the “run happy” post.  

My last few (less than stellar) runs have me more focused on what my July goals should be.  I am heart rate training following Phil Maffetone’s 180 formula found here.  After listening to Tawnee Prazak’s interview with Phil on Endurance Planet I realized this was a method I could prescribe to.  I encourage any level runner to listen to the podcast.  It was chock full of great information and definitely a paradigm shift for me.  His “dissertation” regarding the effect of stress on your training was something that hit home.  I internalize a lot of stress and negate it’s impact on my health and training.  
I have seen Maffetone’s method work for several people and have decided to stick to it for a few months (in earnest).  Not going to allow myself to get side tracked with my “Training ADHD”.  It is a struggle to say the least.  I can walk faster than I am running in an effort to keep my heart rate in the proper MAF zone.  Now I am in July, on Long Island, what feels like the humidity capital of the world.  My heart rate is WACK!  I know I should toss the Garmin to the side and just run.  However, this Type A girl likes her data no matter how dismal it looks.

Just because I have trouble focusing on one thing, I have changed a number of things in my life in the last few weeks.  One was the heart rate training.  The two other things I have changed is my diet (not a vegetarian anymore) and I got in the pool (and loved it!).

Yum! Mahi Mahi Burgers
on a bed of Veggies
I have been a vegetarian (at times a vegan) for almost six years.  I have so many legitimate reasons for starting to eat meat again -- I am saving it for another post.  Let’s just say I feel great.  I had been trending in this direction and then read this blog post by Alex Jamieson who is noted for her book “The Great American Detox Diet” as well as her appearance in Supersize Me.  In addition to adding animal protein back into my diet, I have also increased my healthy fats and reduced my carbs and sugars.  Not just a little change.  This is MASSIVE.  I am a complete science experiment right now.  Like I said, more on this later.

I have also jumped back in the pool after a few years.  Not that I was ever any serious swimmer.  I had a lesson today to brush up on some techniques and get my head set.  I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to don the swim cap and goggles again!
My new favorite trail
Belmont Lake State Park

OK, my long awaited July 2013 Goals:
  1. Continue with my heart rate training (I’ve GOT this!)
  2. Complete FOUR 90 minute runs.
  3. Increase my monthly mileage by 10%.
  4. Get in the pool!
  5. Keep the diet changes consistent so I know if the changes are working.

What are your July 2013 Goals? Anyone doing or ever done Maffetone (or any other heart rate) training? Anyone make any big changes recently? Please share so we can all learn!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The First 50 lbs Are Easy

At the time, I thought it was a mountain.  Vanderbilt Parkway, just west of 231 in Dix Hills.  Some of the locals may know this hill-a quarter mile, 8% average grade.  A good cyclist might get slowed down a little when making this climb, but I was a novice, carrying a little more weight than the average person.  I shifted into my lowest gear and put everything I had into the pedals.  I was not wearing a heart rate monitor at the time, but I know I was red-lining it the whole time.  Gasping for air, heart beating out of my chest, lactic acid burning in my legs and I was barely making progress.  I was absolutely determined to make it to the top without stopping or walking the bike up this hill, that would be embarrassing.

About halfway up the climb, I hear a very calmly spoken "Good Morning."  Another cyclist was passing me on the left.  To my surprise (and dismay), the polite man that passed me was easily twice my age.  He flew by me like I was going backwards, which at that point, I might have been going in the wrong direction.  I was the young buck here, how was he taking this hill with such ease?  Then my analytic, engineering mind kicked in.  The "X" factor here was mass.  He carried significantly less weight up that hill.  Although he was twice my age, he was half my weight.  That was it.  Game on.  I couldn't let a 60 year old man show me up like that!  I had to make a drastic change and lose this excess weight.  The question was how?

I needed advise and counsel.  I needed guidance from my wife Tara.  She had been successfully using the Weight Watcher's Points program for a few months.  My ego would not allow me to go to the meetings or stand up in front of strangers to bear my soul.  That approach works well for women because they tend to be more open-minded and cerebral when the walls come down.  Putting me in a vulnerable state would have reinforced the padlocks on my ego and not allowed me listen to good advise.  Although it sounded like it would work, there was no way I could partake.

Then I discovered the answer.  Weight Watcher's Online!  This was perfect.  I could follow the plan and hide behind the proverbial curtain of cyberspace.  There were no misconceptions going into this endeavor.  It was going to be difficult.  Simple math stated that I needed to take in less calories each day.  Less calories meant less food, and I loved food.  If I wanted to lose weight, I was going to have to give up something I loved for something I just started to enjoy, cycling.  Seemed like a sacrifice worth making.  Off we go!

May 2004 after losing my first
50 pounds.  Big improvement, but
a lot of work still to be done.
I had no idea how much I actually ate until I was recording the caloric values of everything that made it past my lips.  I would put a real "serving" of pasta on my dish and think, "Are you kidding me?"  The portion size part of this diet was a real eye opener.  Previously, I would have eaten half the box of pasta in one sitting.  Now, if I was going to have rice, pasta or other starches, it was going to be these little hockey puck sized portions.  I sure hope this works because it is much more sacrifice than I had anticipated.

Well, it did work.  My weight started dropping at a pretty decent rate.  Truth be told, starting at 230 pounds, I had an overwhelming amount of "low hanging fruit."  Speaking of fruit, and vegetables for that matter, I was still not a fan.  Corn, potatoes and apples.  That was pretty much it for me.  Weight Watcher's program gave me a tool to lose weight by restricting calories.  Remember, I am a math-minded person.  It made sense to me.  Eat less, burn more.  Simple math.  It took me the better part of the next decade to understand that this type of program was for weight loss only and it did not promote healthy eating.

Although the points system is still around, back in its heyday, every other package on the grocery store shelf had points values on it.  It was very easy to buy into the notion that if I was eating something with a low points value, it was healthy.  I now know that eating such highly processed "food" products, regardless of points value or caloric content, is simply not good for your body.

It took me about 8 months to lose about 50 pounds.  I increased the volume of cycling and held to the points system.  I got faster on the bike and slimmer in the waist.  I felt great, but I wanted to do better.  I really wanted to be slim, fit and ripped.  For the first time in my life, I could see the ability to take my shirt off at the beach without being embarrassed.  However, that was still some time away.  The first 50 came off in 8 months.  The next 20 took almost 8 years.

Connect with John

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's a Slog but it's OUR Slog

Last year was my--Tara's-- year to get reacquainted with being a physically fit individual.  I had spent way too long making excuses about being a full-time working mom with two small kids.   
I had excuses galore but to me it was reality.  No time, no desire to leave my kids (after leaving them all day), no energy from middle of the night wake ups, etc.  I was just too tired to pull myself out of bed at 6:30 – forget about 4:30!

I used to enjoy working out and John had been prodding me (frequently!) to get back to the gym.  In January 2012, he suggested I run a 5K.  My perception was that he was calling me fat and lazy.  Not sure if I verbalized my response or if it was just in my head but it went something like “Fu#$ you and your 5K, I will run a 10K.”  I am sure he felt he was being supportive.  I just felt put upon.  I downloaded a Couch to 10K app and completed a 5K, a 4 miler, and a 10K by October 2012.  It felt good to be running again and have accomplishments to call my own.

The couch to any distance apps are designed to get you over the finish line.  That is it.  No thought to speed, heart rate, nutrition, pre-race nerves, etc.  I blew up on every race and felt like crap by the time I crossed the finish line.  I burned out after the (very hilly) 10K, and took a few weeks off.  I realized I wanted to take my running more seriously and increased my workouts, now getting up at 4:30 am, trying to stick to a training plan, and reviewing my diet.  I am not a natural runner.  This was going to be hard work for me but I realized how hungry I am for accomplishments to call my own – maybe a better time on my 10K or a half marathon in 2013 – something that tap dances on the fine line of unattainable (for me).   

After my first 5K in 2012
As the wife of a Triathlete, so much is about him – his training, his goals, his body’s abilities, his races, his accomplishments, etc.  I could easily allow this to consume me and lose sight of my own athletic aspirations.  In speaking to wives of Triathletes (Triathlon Widows as I refer to us), we seem to take a number of approaches to coping with our spouse’s unrelenting passion for their sport: hostility, fear, total disinterest, indifference, and “if you can’t beat him, join him”.  I have daydreamed about pulling into the garage and accidentally running over his bike.  I have referred to his bike as his mistress.  I have rolled my eyes so many times I can’t believe I am not permanently staring at my brains!  

So after the other approaches didn’t work, I joined him.  Let’s face it, Triathletes are pretty inspiring.  They do epic shit almost daily.  Instead of hating on John’s single minded focus, I could find inspiration in it.  I have tapped into my own inner athlete and have made peace with this crazy sport.   
Looking more like an athlete
one year later 2013

For sure I thought my training (running and cycling) would add a complexity to our lives but instead life got easier (not easy!)  We now had a unified battle cry.  Our family took on a greater purpose.  We became a more focused unit – where we spent our money, time, energy.  Our master schedule provides time for John’s training, my training, and family activities.  It’s not perfect but it is better. 

Now that we are both getting up in the four o’clock hour on most days, we are both going to bed early and neither of us complains about it.  No more glasses of wine to fog my mind the next morning.  No more heavy dinners, food is fuel. No more staying up to the wee hours on a Friday or Saturday night (unless built in ahead of time).  TV is watched sparingly. Training became a way of life.  Training is 24/7 around here, living with purpose gives life a beautiful energy.  People may read this and think “what a slog.”

It is a SLOG but it is OUR slog.  

Leave us comments below, we would love to hear how other families try to find balance...or not.

You can find me here:
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It Is About The Bike!

A huge turning point in my life took place sometime around my 30th birthday.  For years, I religiously got up in the 4am hour and went to the gym before work.  I have a few OCD tendencies (my wife might say more than a few) so getting to the gym every morning was just a matter of creating a routine.

The night before, I packed my gym bag and gathered my clothes for the next day.  I had access to a shower at work, so I purchased a complete duplicate set of showering "stuff" and left it at work.  I would leave the house at the same time, get to the gym a few minutes before they opened and do my thing.  On my way to work, I would stop for breakfast at the same place and order the same thing (as I recall, it was a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich), every single day.  I had such an exact routine that it was almost impossible for me to miss a day.

The problem is that I am not sure it did any good.  I had a train-to-eat mentality.  I would justify eating what I wanted because I was spending time in the gym.  I even made efforts to "improve" on my eating.  My breakfast transitioned into egg whites and turkey in lieu of the full eggs and bacon (I still left the cheese on it).  I would trim and grill mass amounts of chicken cutlets and season with some BBQ sauce.  A side of white rice and I was golden.  Right?  Simple carbohydrates, lean protein, little or no fat and 10 hours a week in the gym.  That was supposed to be the answer.  Weighing in at 230 pounds would suggest that it wasn't.

Then, the tipping point.  I sat in front of the gym one morning waiting for it to open as I did every morning for years.  The girl with the key showed up, opened the door, turned on the lights and manned her post at the front desk.  All I had to do was get out of the car and get to work.  However, something was different on this day.

For some unknown reason, I couldn't get out of the car.  I had absolutely no desire to go in the gym.  I had even less motivation to put my hands around another weighted bar.  I simply lost any and all willingness to ever enter a gym again.  To this day, I still cannot explain why this happened.

While at work that day, I was telling the CEO about my experience that morning.  Roger was an avid cyclist and had just purchased a brand new, carbon fiber Calfee Dragonfly.  For some strange reason (it seemed strange at the time, but I can now totally relate), he had his old bike, a Chromoly Bianchi propped up in his office.  He wheeled the bike over to me and said to give this a try.

With all of the enthusiasm of a 4-year old on their birthday, I rushed home after work to give this cycling thing a whirl.  I had to overcome a few technical glitches at first.  Why won't my bike pump fit these stupid valves (I had never seen a Presta valve at this point)?  I can't keep my feet on these tiny little pedals (little did I know they were clip-less Look pedals).  A quick and humbling trip to the local bike shop solved my issues and I was on my way.

I rode for what seemed like hours and ended up two towns over.  After my return trip home, I jumped in my car and retraced my route with the trip odometer reset at the start.  8 miles.  Yup, that was it.  8 miles.  It didn't really matter that much, I was hooked.  This was going to be my new path to fitness.  However, as I soon discovered on a "steep" hill, 230 pounds was NOT the ideal weight or body composition for this activity.

It was time to do something drastic and downright was time to address my diet.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Makes a Seven Year Old Boy Ask "Do I Look Fat?"

My son recently told me --Tara-- he wants to be 100 pounds so he can be on TV.

You’re probably thinking “What an odd comment,” or “Where did that come from?” Well, you see, I allowed my seven-year-old child to watch The Biggest Loser this season – the first to feature kid participants.

I am not writing to critique the show, give advice, pass judgment or claim to have any answers. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, registered dietitian, exercise physiologist or even a personal trainer. I am simply sharing my experience as a mother, fitness enthusiast, and health-conscious individual.

I know some of you started judging me the second you realized I allowed my son to watch The Biggest Loser. That’s okay, I have thick skin. However, I think you will see that I am a fairly rational being who meant no harm. I might even be a bit like you.

I am a working mom with two kids. Like many of you, my life gives new meaning to the word busy. Aside from my own activities, my husband competes in triathlons, and my kids have their fair share of athletics. Family fun day is always an active experience.  We are conscious eaters. Our diet consists of loads of plants and limited prepackaged items. We steer clear of preservatives as much as possible. And absolutely NO high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. We participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which allows us to show the kids where our food comes from. If they’re at a birthday party, they eat the cake. We strive for balance without instilling any body image issues or phobias.

When I let my seven-year-old watch The Biggest Loser, my goal was to expand his worldview by observing people who live differently, have him hear what it’s like to be an overweight child, and (hopefully!) help him understand why Mommy and Daddy work hard to ensure we live the healthiest lifestyle for us. I am not an over-analyzer and have a pretty positive personality; it didn’t even cross my mind that allowing my son to watch the show might have any negative outcomes. Having kids on the show made it seem more appropriate. Otherwise I would have deemed it adult content. I don't usually watch the show. It’s not representative of our lifestyle or beliefs. It seems strange now that we watched this season at all, let alone as a family.

As my son watched these episodes, he did what I expected. He expressed empathy for the contestants as they shared their life stories. He cheered them on as they faced their challenges and weigh-ins. He was angry when these children spoke about being bullied. He spoke about how he felt lucky to grow up in a house where everyone was “healthy” and had active lifestyles.  What I didn't expect were the random “Do I look fat?” or “Am I getting fat?” or “Can I step on the scale?” questions that started creeping into our daily dialogue. I was blown away the day he said he wanted to be 100 pounds or more so he could go on TV. (For reference, my son is about 58 pounds, medium height with a muscular build.)

I didn't dwell on his desire to gain weight so he can be on TV. Not that I didn't take it seriously, I just didn't think it was something I wanted to “play up.” As a mother, my wish to do right by my children trumps all. I do believe when you pay too much attention to something, it begins to grow into something greater than it might really be – kind of like the boyfriend you kept around too long because your parents despised him.

I like to focus my kids on what they CAN do instead of what they can’t do. As the situations above came up, I continued to redirect him (and my daughter) to our family’s healthy habits: we get plenty of sleep, we drink water, we eat lots of fruits and veggies, we try new things (especially foods), and we get our hearts pumping.

Before writing this post, I spoke to my son about his experience watching The Biggest Loser. Did he really want to gain weight just to be on TV?

My son talked about healthy habits but admitted he didn't learn them from the show, he learned them from Mom and Dad. He also admitted that while he knows he shouldn't want to be over 100 pounds, being on TV would be “really cool.” Alas… the mind of a seven-year-old.

I don’t regret my decision.  I take full accountability for my actions.  I was able to reinforce the importance of positive body image and discuss healthy weight loss with my son.  Building healthy, fit, well rounded, and emotionally well adjusted kids starts in the home and has nothing to do with mass marketed ‘reality’ TV. Be confident in the life you lead, be present in the decisions you make, and be cautious of how you go about trying to expand your child’s worldview.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mother's Day Duathlon Race Report

Alasdair #555
I fully expected it to be raining when I woke up on Mother's Day morning.  It has rained at every multi-sport race I have done since August 2011 and today was the Carl Hart Mother's Day Duathlon. This was going to be a family outing, Iron style.

I was racing the adult event and Alasdair (7) was racing the youth.  Avery (4) was really upset that she couldn't race due to the age requirement.  Alasdair and I did some evening training sessions in our neighborhood in the weeks leading up to his first multi-sport race.  Of course, we could not do any of these without Avery. She wanted to run, transition, bike, transition and run again just like her big brother.  In fact, she gets really upset when he "beats" her to the finish line; the end of our driveway.  She still has not accepted that a 7 year old boy should be faster than her, and consequently she pours every last bit of strength and effort she has into disproving the conventional wisdom.  However, she still couldn't race.

We packed all of our gear and family into the truck and set out for the race at 7:00am.  We did our check-in, transition setup and pre-race fueling.  By this time, the weather had cleared and it was beautiful out.  Maybe my curse was over!

It was go time for the youth race.  Alasdair started the run like a bullet, something I have been working hard at correcting, but a 7 year old boy just doesn't understand the idea of pacing.  Although he did slow his pace, he never stopped running for the entire 1/2 mile loop.  His transition was perfect, just as we practiced and he set out on the 3 loop bike segment.

As soon as he set off on the bike, my heart sank.  The son of a competitive triathlete was riding a bike that was WAY too small for him.  I was planning on getting him a new bike this year, but thought we could wait.  I was wrong.  His little legs were spinning like Mark Cavendish in the final 100 meters of a road race while the other kids flew past him like he was going backwards.  I could not have been more embarrassed for my lack of action in getting him a bike suitable for the race.

It was up to the kids (and spectating parents) to count their laps for the bike leg.  When Alasdair was passing transition after his second lap, he wound up in the middle of a group of older kids, finishing their third.  The race officials were flagging kids into transition and in the confusion, Alasdair dismounted and went into T2.  I made it over to him just as he racked his bike and took off his helmet.  I explained that he had only done 2 laps and he should have done 3.  The race official in transition heard our conversation and said not to worry about it, he could just go out on the run.  After a second or two of thought, he put his helmet back on, grabbed his bike and headed out to complete his third lap.  At that moment, I was the proudest parent there.

After completing his third lap, Alasdair set off on the last 1/2 mile run.  Again, he ran the entire way and finished the race in 19:49, 32nd out of 37.  When we asked how it was, he said only one thing, "It was a lot longer than I expected."

We have since bought him a new bike, 2 sizes bigger and he is now tearing up the neighborhood getting ready for his next event.

I had set a goal for myself to break the one hour mark at this race.  It was my first race of the year and it was a sprint distance (I have not done a short race in a few years), so I was not sure how I was going to do.  I had faith in my training and fitness level, but race days are always a bit questionable.

Although I have improved greatly, I never considered myself a good runner.  I usually seeded myself near the middle of the pack at a run start.  This time, I decided to jump right into the front, about 3 people back from the start line.  The gun went off and I started fast, but not an all out sprint.  In about 10 seconds, there was a small group in the front and I was right with them.  I thought to myself that this was nice being with the lead group, but I won't be able to stay with them.  Well, I kept saying that over and over, minute after minute, but I never got dropped.  I came into T1 in about 30th place overall.

There is nothing more encouraging than running into T1 and seeing bikes packed from wall to wall.  This was my first time witnessing this little confidence and energy booster.  I set out on the bike course, battled the crazy winds and finished with the 22nd fastest bike split.

I went into T2 about 7 seconds behind a group of 10.  About a half mile into the second run, I was unable to close the gap on the group in front of me.  I looked behind me on a straightaway and did not see anyone coming.  At that point, my position was sealed, so I pulled up just a bit and cruised to the finish in 56:19, 1st in my age group and 21st overall.

My first podium finish.  We spent the rest of the day celebrating Mother's Day with Tara and riding the high of our morning victories and successes.  A perfect day and start to our season, sans the blown engine in my truck on the way home from the race!