Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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If The Image Fits: A Body Image Story

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost five years now. For the majority of that time, I’ve been single, and in the 30-something dating pool, which, as it is, is a veritable Chex party mix of losers, overachievers, crazies, the emotionally damaged, and, then, people like me, who have happened to make a series of bad choices in their 20s that have left them in the category of “never marrieds.”

In this day and age, we all find ourselves converging in the same mixed bowl that is Internet dating, and we have to sift through hundreds, even thousands of completely wrong matches to find a few promising faces to talk with.

One day, as I was rooting through the thugs, goths, hippies, jocks, and closet s&m freaks, I came across a handsome smiling face. He seemed to have a lot in common with me: a similar taste in movies and music, a decent sense of humor, very into charity work, and athletic. He’d also lived in London, as had I. At the end of his profile, he mentioned that, as he was very athletic himself, that he wanted to date someone fit as well. Perfect, right?

I sent a little note, asking him where he’d lived in London, and mentioning that I fundraise and volunteer for various charities. He wrote back promptly, but, when I read his reply, he’d provided where he’d lived in London, as a polite answer to my question, but he added, “Good luck finding your man.”

Normally, I would have just let it go and not given this much of a second thought, but for some reason, I was curious to know why he had shut me down so immediately. So, I asked, politely, what about my profile was un-appealing to him,

It took him a full day to reply. Maybe he was hesitant to tell the truth, or maybe he was just busy. I got the reply after spending all day dancing and riding a spin bike at a charity event In Santa Monica.

“Well, for those who read my profile all the way to the bottom you can see that I prefer a certain physical type: fit.”

Be careful when you ask for the truth, folks. You just might get it. My blood boiled.

“I’M AN IRONWOMAN!” I wanted to scream at him. “Fit? Ha! Don’t you mean anorexic?”

I didn’t say those things, but only politely thanked him for his candor. Immediately I started to wonder if this is what most men wanted: “fit”, as in size zero slim, not as in 5’7″ and a size 10. It made me want to hate my body because it wasn’t “good enough.”

I’ve been here almost five years, like I said. While some of us find it easy to fit into that bowl of snack mix, others of us are just the odd pieces out. You wrestle all of the time with what kind of body that everyone tells you that you “should” have, versus the one that you do have. Maybe it’s normal to feel odd and awkward, and even low sometimes because you aren’t an acceptable shape or size, but it’s better to accept that you are who you are, and that, just like a sesame stick In a bowl of cereal, you’ll be picked from the bunch by someone who has different taste.

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The Yoga Culture Of L.A.: A Yoga Story

Throughout my life, I had different impressions of yoga. I avoided it for much of my 20s, because it didn’t seem like it would be strenuous enough to really be considered “exercising”. I imagined a bunch of people in a room “Om” ing and breathing in full lotus position, whilst being guided through gentle stretching. I had never heard of hatha, or vinyasa, or yin flow, etc.

The ONLY brand for yoga. Riiight.

The ONLY brand for yoga. Riiight.

My first yoga class was actually in London; at a Bikram studio within walking distance from my flat, where they offered a month of unlimited classes for a very reasonable charge. A friend begged me to do it with her, so I signed up. The scorching hot room had an oddly peaceful vibe to it. There were people from all walks of life in the room, but no one talked once in the room. They remained fixed on the sound of the instructor’s voice, and laser-focused on their own body movement, balance, and breathing. There was a focus on fitness and quieting the mind. I found myself improving quickly through the weeks, and setting little goals for myself every time. The practice was all about me, and the classes made it easy to do that.

Flash forward to my life in Los Angeles, where yoga pants-clad women are the daily standard sight at coffee shops, grocery stores, and sidewalks city-wide. To an outsider, it would seem that women in this city are always going to or coming from yoga, with their sloppy ballerina buns (annoying trend alert), and chia seed smoothies. Yoga here is almost as much of a fashion accessory as any clothing or hairstyle. Anyone who’s anyone does yoga–duh!

And, while I’m a total hypocrite for attending classes weekly myself, I note how different the vibe is here from the London yoga studio. Cliques of lithe, willowy yogaphiles chatter excitedly at the front of the room, and hug and squeal when they see each other. From the back of the room, as I observe the trim figures lined up on the mats in front of me, I pick out the familiar athletic wear designer label on each and every pair of leggings or tank top in the room: “Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon…” and so on.

While, yes, this yoga studio features Vinyasa style yoga, and not the scorching Bikram style yoga, the room still gets very hot when you’re in the thick of things. Yet, some of these women just don’t sweat. They finish out the class as smooth and dry as they began, without even a glow or a glimmer of moisture. Meanwhile, I look as though I’ve just weathered a Tsunami. Granted, I’m a “sweat-er,” but still. It’s as if these women will themselves not to sweat so that they will remain perfect-looking in their $100 leggings for that Whole Foods errand later.

Of course, yoga is a personal practice, and I try to let these thoughts melt away while wobbling in my Half Moon pose, or my feeble attempts at Crow Pose. Still, it’s tough not to feel the glaring heat of obviousness that you don’t belong to a certain culture. I’m not gluten free, and I prefer not to eat something for breakfast that I can grow a fun “pet” out of (“Ch-ch-ch-chia!”). I don’t plunk $100 down on exercise clothing just because it’s trendy. I wear my hair in a ponytail. I’m an individual. And I guess that coming to terms with that is a mental exercise all in itself.

 


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A Purple A** For Stupidity: A Training Story

The American culture tends to value “heroic” acts, even when we’re not really saving anyone but our own egos. We all see the videos and read articles and watch moves about folks who suffered through pain and illness to achieve personal goals, and we gaze on those folks with eyes gleaming with admiration. It’s the “American Dream” that leads us to believe that, if we work hard enough, if we want something badly enough, we can achieve it. The more we push through pain, strife and suffering, the sweeter the reward.

As athletes, we understand pushing more than most people. We know that we must push past our upper limits at times to see gains in performance. Still, sometimes, it’s hard to gauge just how far is too far. Training for an Ironman, the culture is very much about pushing limits and pushing past pain that normal athletes would warn against. It is a badge of bravery and badassery to run 10 miles on a broken foot, or to cycle 80 or more miles in the heat ’til you throw up, and then keep going.

Lose an arm in the swim? Oh well, keep going!

Lose a foot on the bike? Keep pedaling!

Turn into a zombie on the run? Keep stumbling forward!

…And, if you quit, if you succumb to the pain, it is a stamp of shame. People pat you on the back, with that special blend of condescending sympathy and half-hearted encouragement, and you have a clear picture that somehow you’re a total loser that doesn’t deserve to be facing such a challenge.

Well, while people seem to be seeking Purple Hearts for their self-imposed bravery in action, they’re getting injured, a lot. Sure, we all need to push, but we all know that point at which the body says, “Nope!” If we keep pushing, we’re in for trouble. Ha, they should give out “Purple Ass” awards for those of us who push beyond that point, because, seriously, it’s ridiculous.

I earned myself one such award this week, after engaging in three consecutive days of full-body bootcamp. Given my travel schedule and my need to fit in three sessions a week, I was left with few options. I thought, “I’m not even that sore after class anymore, so I can handle three days in a row.” Three full-body, tough workouts. Three days in a row. Sure, no problem.  Never mind that I was completely throwing out the sound rules of strength training, that the body needs adequate rest to rebuild itself. And I am no seasoned body builder or strong person. I’m a total feeb. I can barely crank out five full “guy” pushups.

In Which I Do Stupid Things

Day one was a great, energizing morning class, where I felt pleasantly fatigued and pumped. By Day Two, I was ready to go another round that evening, although, initially, the exercises seemed a bit harder, the weights a bit heavier than they were the day before. The Day Two class involved a lot of jumping–in particular jump squats, which we did for four minutes straight–and the class stretched to an hour and a half because there were so many people in attendance that we needed to add a few more exercises onto the rotation. By the end of that class, I felt cooked. I found it hard to imagine waking up the following morning and immediately going back and enduring one more set of plyometric exercises, or chest exercises.

Day Two, still "possessed" by the workout bug.

Day Two, still “possessed” by the workout bug.

Now, for the past few weeks, I’d had an ongoing issue with my right hip/low back, where, upon rising from a bending over position, it would make a “click” noise. My chiropractor explained that it was tight, and helped it temporarily, but it kept coming back, and my low-density foam roller just wasn’t enough to “get in there” to make it go away. I had planned a sports massage while working in Vegas last week, but work ended up taking over, and so my clicks went un-fixed.

On the morning of Day 3 of my boot camping streak, I woke up with a larger degree of fatigue and soreness than usual, and the point where my hip was clicking felt tight and pang-y. It led me to question whether I should actually go through with this, but, of course, the drill sergeant inside my head, yelled, “Don’t even think about backing out now, wussy!”

I bolstered that thought with the idea that, maybe, the reason I never had achieved a strong, muscular physique was that I didn’t push myself enough. “If you want to achieve something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done,” I said to myself.

As I strolled into the room with all of the bootcamp stations set up, I thought, “Wow, my hip is really tight and twinge-y. I hope it loosens up.” The pain felt as though some evil cobbler elves were stitching my muscles together in new configurations, using a huge needle. I feebly tried stretching it, but the pain was in a place, kind of like that spot on your mid-back that’s tough to reach, that was just beyond the scope of any stretch I could think of to provide relief.

By the second exercise, bent over rows, that spot on my low back/hip began to “Nope.” It squeezed with a stabbing ferocity that made me sweat more than usual. I continued to move weakly through the exercises. Some were more painful than others. When it came to running, there was no way. I ended up having to skip a few exercises based on the level of pain that I was dealing with. My trainer friend lent me some muscle rolling apparatuses to help loosen things up.

I am in SO much pain!

I am in SO much pain!

When I got home, the pain worsened to the point of almost leaving me in tears. Luckily, I had two Ibuprofens left in the bottle. I quickly popped those and gave my chiro a call. He fit me in right away, and provided me some relief from the stabbing pain, instructing me to ice every hour.

Needless to say, I re-learned a lesson that I’ve learned before, which is: Listen to your body. Maybe it will take a longer road to get to your intended goal, but maybe not. At least you’ll have a more enjoyable ride. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?


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The Mind of a Lifelong Fat Person: A Weight Loss Story

So, this post is going to be brutally honest. I’m setting aside all of my insecurities about revealing my insecurities, mainly because I hope to both shed some light on the inner workings of someone with a lifelong weight issue, and also to let other people who think like me feel like they aren’t alone.

If you were to see my weight on a graph throughout my life, it’d look something like this:

 

From Age 8 to Age 34

From Age 8 to Age 34

 

As you can see, I’ve had my ups and downs. And now, at 20-25 lbs more than my ideal, it’s definitely not the heaviest I’ve ever been, but it certainly makes me feel nervous. Nervous because I remember vividly what it’s like to be unquestionably obese, and I never want to be there again.

 

For much of my adolescent life, as a middle-class, Franco-American white kid, I internalized all of the prescribed standards of beauty. I never felt confident because I was awkward, clumsy, without the lithe, lean form of my peers. I had no friends in middle school. I secretly thought that, if I could just be “thin” that all of my social problems would melt away, along with the layers of fat that kept me relegated to sit alone in the cafeteria. I thought that it was my body that made me unlovable. Yet, in a twisted way, food became this comfort for me.

 

Every ice cream sundae, or doughnut, or chocolate bar became a treasure trove of delight, and the more my body expanded, the more adults commented on how I “should not be eating” something or another. My babysitter attempted to put me on a diet at age 8. My first official diet was Weight Watchers, at age 13, where I finally felt in control, after earning my “25 lbs” ribbon, a trophy that marked the dawn of a lifelong, arduous battle, fueled by self-loathing and attributing self worth to the numbers on the scale.

 

While, as an adult, I’ve gained more confidence and wisdom than that 13-year-old me, specters of the old me still haunt my life, and the mental habits of a lifelong dieter are tough to kill.

 

For instance, at every meal, I mentally tabulate all of the calories in my food before taking a bite. I often strategize how I’m going to eat said meal (start with veggies, eat half of the meat, drink lots of water). If I’m dining with others, I instantly silently compare not only what they’re eating, but how much of it they eat. I make doubly sure never to eat more than the other person (don’t want to look like a pig, right?).

At every exercise class, if there’s a mirror, I find myself looking at me and comparing my body with everyone else around me. Actually, I compare myself everywhere to other people. Why? Just to see if I’m the biggest one there. If I’m not, it’s a slight relief. If I am, there’s a small prickle of anxiety and discomfort with being the fatty in the room.

Every time I look in the mirror in the morning, I lift up my t-shirt to look at my stomach and hips. I turn to various angles to see if, possibly, by some miracle, my body has changed. When I’m making progress with weight loss and getting down to my goal weight, I can see definition in my abs and I can see my ribcage when I suck in. Before leaving the house, I make sure that I look at myself from every angle, ensuring that my clothing hides all of my “problem” areas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten keener at what works for my body, so, typically I don’t have to change.

I may even leave the house with the idea, “Hey, I’m looking pretty good today!”

That belief is often shattered when I see a picture of myself, particularly in group shots, where the clothes I thought were flattering really do reveal all of my lumps and bumps, and, further, my 5’7”, size 10 frame hulks over other folks in the shot.

In which I look way fatter than I thought I looked in the morning.

In which I look way fatter than I thought I looked in the morning.

Seeing myself on camera is the only time when all of my sensible adult self-affirmation does no good. In rare cases, I panic slightly. Seeing the video version of myself giving a presentation from last week, here were my exact thoughts:

Omg, I’m fat.

Everything jiggles when I move around.

Where did that terrible posture come from?

Omg, I have a lower belly pooch.

I don’t even have a waist from the side, I’m just a big lump.

Wow, I had no idea I was THIS fat.

OMG, am I waddling?

 

 

It sounds insane, given that, really, compared to lots of Americans, I’m not THAT fat. I’m smaller than the average size 14 woman. I sound insane.

More insanity for you: When I ask friends if they think I’m fat, they squirm uncomfortably and say, “That’s not something I even notice about my friends.” Or, “No, you’re not fat.” In my head, I think, Liars. They might be lying, but they’re doing it to be nice.

On the other hand, when they are truthful, like my friend, who said, “Well, you’re on the heavier side, obviously…” Wait. What do you MEAN, “obviously”? Does that mean I’m unquestionably, undeniably fat? I never win with this question, but, still, I’m insecure enough to ask it when I’m struggling with my weight.

My mind is always churning, trying to figure out how to slay this unslayable beast, this fat monster who has not only affected, but undoubtedly altered my entire life. What would I have accomplished, what would I have said or done, if I hadn’t let my weight hold me back, undermine my confidence, and make me believe that I was less of a person, unworthy of love and friendship, because of it.

To so many of us, the state of being fat is a loaded one. Sure, the outside world may judge us based on our outer appearance, assuming sloth, low willpower, overindulgence, ugliness, messiness, bad habits, and more. The state of being fat is scary to everyone. We are afraid of losing control.

Every time I struggle to lose weight, in spite of my best efforts, the panic sets in. Every time, I have to talk myself down, reaffirm patience, and reaffirm that my body is healthy, in spite of a few extra pounds. I have to reassure myself that fat is not a value judgment of me. Every time I talk myself down, it gets easier.

The truth is, in life, sometimes we take giant broad jumps forward, only be dragged back a few feet by our old habits and insecurities. The only way to slay the monsters that set us back is to keep moving toward them, with less fear, every time.


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Finding No Meaning: A Training Story

Easter holiday time, no matter what your religion, can be a good opportunity to refresh: to make new goals or re-double our efforts toward the ones we set earlier in the year. Life happens pretty fast, and, if we don’t take these chances to pop our heads up and assess how we’re doing, like any open water swimmer can tell you, we can end up way off course.

However, while we assess our goals, we should also take a moment to  ask ourselves: are we packaging our goals with a degree of self care and objectivity?

I ask this question because most athletes that I know work very hard to achieve certain goals. In working toward a goal, taking measurements, striving day after day, we tend to grow emotionally attached to our goals. While these emotions become attached to goals, they are often deeply rooted within ourselves, frequently attached to certain perceptions we have about ourselves, the same perceptions that create inner monologues and value judgements based on what we do or don’t do. These perceptions have been honed over time, and I have yet to meet a person who lacks any. Still, it’s what you do with these perceptions and feelings that have a profound affect on your overall well-being as you work to reach your goals.

A few weeks ago, Coach Mikey had us doing my least favorite breathing exercise: 50 yd breathing every 3, 50 yd breathing every 5, 50 yd breathing every 7, 50 yd breathing every 5. Even though I can do 25 yards without breathing at all, somehow, the counting trips me up, and I find myself gasping for air after the second 50.

Stopping for a second to look up at Mikey, I shook my head and said, “I don’t know why I can’t seem to handle this drill.”

Mikey, completely unconcerned, looked at me briefly, and said, “Don’t make it mean anything.”

Oh. Okay. I shrugged off my concerns and kept swimming, caring less about how crappy I was at the drill, and moving forward, relieved from the burden of over-thinking, without much emotion toward it at all.

But that moment was poignant. Her words were like an arrow plunging straight into the roots and earth of every problem I ever had. Hadn’t I always made pretty much everything mean something? Hadn’t I always related every goal and every interaction with other people to some deep insecurity or value judgment of myself?

While racing, every DNF, while I gave my best speeches about how I tried my best and that’s what counted, somehow, deeply, meant that I just didn’t have it in me to be a real triathlete, that I was foolish for thinking so. While at work, every time I tripped up during a big presentation meant that I just didn’t have what it took to be successful. While dating, every guy who wasn’t in the right place to have a relationship, I secretly thought, “…with me.” Sense a theme here?

I have attached so much meaning to tiny, little blips in the grand scheme of things, that every time I have not been absolutely perfect has threatened to rip down the grand scheme of my life. In reality, the stakes are not that high. Furthermore, stumbles and blips are natural, and can sometimes mean, counterintuitively, that  you ARE making progress.

So, lately, when I’ve caught myself getting wrapped up in those emotional roots over a tiny blip, I pop my head up, look around, take a deep breath, and keep swimming.

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!


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Ad-Libbing My Exercise: A Travel Story

Like me, many professionals have to add the sometimes fun, but mostly burdensome travel to their regular schedules. I pop up to headquarters at least once a month, far away from my usual yoga studio, my bootcamps, my swim class, and my regular running route. Plus, travel usually has me on a tight agenda, making fitting in workouts slightly more challenging than it is at home.  Not only are workouts an issue, but, with business lunches, dinners, all day catered meetings, and other meal obstacles, traveling is a recipe for ruining the progress you have made at home.

See what I'm up against? This is not fair.

See what I’m up against? This is not fair.

Now, I am no saint when it comes to travel-based diet and exercise slip-ups. I’ve definitely had my share of “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or, “I’m too exhausted from traveling to hit the treadmill” moments, but I’m trying to work through these things because, hey, this is real life, and we have to learn to navigate every day, real life obstacles without being psycho or obsessive about it.

For every trip, I come armed. Here’s what I do to make sure my trip doesn’t trip up my healthy routine:

  1. No ‘fitness center’, no love. I always book a hotel that has a fitness room, and I try to book one that has at least multiple machines, so there’s less chance of a ‘machine hog’ situation. Sometimes it’s easier to get motivated to workout in a strange place if all you have to do is walk down a hallway or take the elevator.
  2. Plan your workout days. I bring a print out of strength training exercises from my trainer that I’m supposed to do, and I do what I can (depending on whether there are weights available to me or not). I figure out which days I’m going to do what type of workout, and I do them. Also, if you exercise in the a.m., you can explore the city after work, worry-free.
  3. Bring back-up. One of the biggest problems I have is with catered meals or business dinners. I’ve learned to pack my suitcase with healthy,low-sugar bars, raw nuts, and other non-refrigerated items to carry in my purse to keep me satiated throughout the day. That way, I can grab a little bit of salad at these things, and avoid the ravenous monster that threatens my ability to stay on track.
  4. Sleep. I know it’s tough to sleep in a new place. Usually, the first night, I toss and turn, which makes getting up early to work out that day seem horrible. I always designate Day 1 of my trip as my weekly “rest” day, whenever possible, simply because I know that my sleep will be interrupted. If I wake up feeling okay, I might jump on an exercise machine for some lighter, less intense activity.
  5. Know the workout spots. If you frequent a place often, sometimes it works to find some local fitness classes, or a running trail, just to keep you going in the right direction.

    Pre-printed exercises are portable, and FUN (okay, maybe not fun, but portable)

    Pre-printed exercises are portable, and FUN (okay, maybe not fun, but portable)

Like I said, I am no angel, and I do slip up, but I try to use these tools to keep the slip-ups pretty minimal.

Have a favorite hotel workout routine? Please share!


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Push It: A Strength Training Story

The more I learn about fitness and my body, the more I realize that I went into this whole Ironman thing all wrong. While, yes, some of my IronTeammates had never competed in a triathlon prior to starting last season, and most of them finished their first Ironman several months later, it was kind of a long shot to imagine that a person with no base or foundation in a sport could compete in and finish the highest level of the sport nine months later.

As someone who grew up with her head in the clouds, nose in a book, and to whom sports (besides horseback riding) were a primitive and unnecessary activity, my body had learned to adapt to using the least amount of muscle to do anything. A smooshy endomorph, no matter how active I became in later years, I was never REALLY strong.

Strength training, to me, was never something I loved. Although I would spend some obligatory time on weight machines, and, at one time, worked my way up to being able to do 15 knee push-ups, I found the repetitive motions boring, unexciting, and pointless. I always lost weight primarily by running and other cardio.

When Beth told me that, to lean out, I would need to stop the long, slow cardio, and rev up my metabolism with strength training, I wasn’t thrilled, nor was I sure if I’d achieve the same fast-acting results that I did with running my booty off, but, seeing as I was dealing with tendinitis at the moment, I figured that I might as well try.

Results are coming. Not as quickly as they did with running, but I’m getting stronger, and starting to see my weight slide back down the scale. Phew!

And I have new goals. For example, jumping. Being airborne and bottom-heavy are things that do not mix. I’m lucky if I can get six inches off the ground, and that’s trying my very best. I know it’s going to take some time to be able to box jump like a pro, but I’m sticking with it.

My road to becoming a real IronWoman is long, but I hope to reach superhero status, and to do it the right way!