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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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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The Fine Line Between Diligence And Obsession: A Healthy Lifestyle Story

I am serious, clearly. Very serious.

I am serious, clearly. Very serious.

Imaginative people like me are ruled by obsessive thoughts. We ruminate and dream about possibilities and what-ifs, good and bad. We drive ourselves butts-out crazy with ideas, often staying awake at night creating scenarios. Women tend to be especially good at this, in my experience, as we often leap to conclusions or imagine our own stories about others that may or may not exist. Recently I had a friend of mine whom I’ve known for about 10 years now observe that, based on my Facebook posts and blog, I seemed like I was becoming increasingly “obsessed” with this health and fitness stuff in the four years since I moved to Los Angeles. While she is in another state and isn’t with me day-to-day, and her own assumption, I felt, was incorrect, it really made me check in with myself on two fronts:

1) When does diligence and enjoyment of a healthy lifestyle turn into obsession, and what defines it?

2) While expressing my enthusiasm for feeling healthy and doing things that make me feel healthy, am I alienating other people I care about who don’t share my enthusiasm?

Let’s start with the first check-in. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have used exercise and diet as a form of “punishment” for myself, for being fat, or for eating more of something than I should have. I think that many people look at these things as necessary evils to achieve a certain body type. We’re bombarded with messaging daily, especially in Los Angeles, that a person can never be too thin, or too “toned” (I hate that word). I see this stuff every day. Does it affect me? Sure, it does. Would I love to look like a fitness model? Yes, that would be nice. Do I obsess about looking like one? That answer is a definite no.

At the same time, I do have my own self-conscious little “obsessive” habits that I’ve picked up over the years of struggling with my weight. I still look around the room in an exercise class and observe whether I’m the fattest one there. Usually I am, mostly because I think a lot of people my size or larger give up, or because they observe a room of size 2 women and they think, “No way. I’m the fattest one here.” I try to take it as a compliment to myself, that, even though I’m built differently, I still put in the work. I’m there because I deserve to be, because the classes are for everyone, and there’s no sign on the door that says, “No one above a size 6 allowed.” I’m not trying to be them, or to look like them, I’m just trying to get better at whatever I’m doing.

There comes a point where, at any size, at any moment, you have to accept yourself. You just have to, because you cannot go through life hating yourself, even if you’re carrying more weight on your frame than you’d like, or even if you can’t master Crow Pose in yoga, or you can’t run around the block. You have to slap yourself out of the fantasy that one day you’ll blossom out of your cocoon and turn into Adriana Lima. You have to, because, if you don’t, you’ll never have the chance to be you, and that would be a damn shame.

Anyway, yes, I know fitness and health is part of the culture here in California, and I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but, really, why wouldn’t I? I live in a beautiful place, with GREAT weather. I can be outside playing all year long! I can swim in the ocean, bike along the coast, run in the hills, hike mountains! I can explore and move my body, and feel alive. I’ve never felt so great before. I love how challenging my body and mind makes me feel, and I’m enthusiastic about it. Even when my muscles are cooked, I’ve got a huge smile on my face. I’ve turned what used to be my biggest punishment into my greatest reward.

…Which brings me to check-in #2: Am I being too enthusiastic for those who might not share my passion? Even as someone who enjoys posting and reading about health and fitness, there are certain kinds of posts that even I find annoying, such as people’s daily check-ins at the gym, posting daily run/swim/bike distances and times, and detailed daily fitness routines. See the pattern? It’s the daily minutia that screams to everyone, “Look what I did and what you didn’t do!” or “Look how awesome I am!” Bleh. However, monumental break-throughs, epic workouts, and other noteworthy experiences are interesting to me because they are share-worthy, especially for those who know how tough it is to get to those epic moments. I try to only post about my fitness moments in context, whether it’s a great workout, a fun bike ride, or a really epic run or swim. Still, maybe my enthusiasm is as grating to some friends as the daily stuff is to me, especially if they don’t share my zeal for this lifestyle.

Just like baby pictures or ad nauseum political posts can be irritating to some, it is important that, as our lives change, that we are mindful of what we share online. Sometimes our passion can get a little too passionate, and, while it’s just as easy for some folks to un-follow us, it can be helpful to be understanding and to check-in with ourselves as well. I don’t think my passion for health and fitness looks like an obsession, but I certainly have been made aware of my own enthusiasm, as well as its affect on others.

I guess I’ll wrap up by throwing the question out there: Has anyone out there alienated friends because of their enthusiasm for health or fitness? What kinds of fitness or health-related posts do you find annoying?


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“Enlightened” Foodists: A Diet Story

Here again, is my disclaimer that I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, or an expert on food and nutrition in any way, but I have done my own reading, spoken to doctors and researchers, and have drawn my own conclusions. This blog post is merely me expressing my own opinions. Take them or leave them.Image

A friend on Facebook recently updated his status to ask friends what vitamins he should take to help his energy level. Before I even read the responses, I thought, Oh boy, this guy is in for a tidal wave of “advice.” And the advice came rolling in. It’s as if, suddenly, all of his friends had acquired M.D.s overnight! From explicit directives regarding health, fitness and nutrition regimens, to exclamations of, “Eat raw food!” or “The Paleo Diet is the way to go!” these well-meaning friends adamantly insisted that the guy change his whole lifestyle, and there were SO MANY different opinions.

Look, if a diet works for you, great. I get that people are excited when they discover something that works with their body chemistry and fits into their lifestyle. However, it does NOT mean that a chosen diet is the healthiest possible diet for anyone and everyone. Just because it’s “trendy” or helps with some aspect of a person’s life (weight loss, energy, chronic condition, etc.), does not make it an optimal diet for all. What is irritating about most long term dieters is that these people take on a “holier than thou” attitude, maintaining that THEY are the enlightened few who have discovered THE path to better health, and that everyone else (the proletarian, Big Mac-scarfing masses) just doesn’t “get” it yet.

Let’s look at “raw” diets, for example. There are lots of benefits to raw food; in particular, the fiber content, the “roughage”, the benefits of ingesting some live enzymes and nutrients that exist in some raw foods that don’t exist after they’re cooked. However, cooking food is a technology that can actually bring out the nutritional benefits of some foods AND prevent disease. Cooking asparagus helps fight cancer, cooking mushrooms makes them more potassium-rich, cooking spinach helps the body absorb more calcium, magnesium and iron. Raw foodists pride themselves on eating “natural” and “clean” foods, but, truth be told, humans actually cooked and ate meat before they discovered agriculture. Agriculture is a technology we invented. I know, right? Shocking.

So, then we have the Paleo Diet peeps, who, on principle, seem to make a bit more nutritional sense. It’s basically eating “clean” –no processed foods, no breads and pastas, no sugar, no dairy. Basically, it’s meat and veggies, and pretty restrictive. Generally speaking, this is probably a fine diet to have–if we hadn’t evolved, genetically–and if ancient humans never ate grains (which they did–I know, another shock).

Like I said, cool, if these work for you, great, but they are no panacea, and restrictive diets can sometimes adversely affect health and (hidden danger) cause eating disordered thinking. And, in today’s world, where temptation is everywhere, and willpower is limited, having the occasional chocolate bar or doughnut, or potato chip won’t cause ill affect on your health, just like one carrot won’t benefit you much if you’re eating Twinkies 24/7. In fact, a treat every now and again might help you stay “on track” in the long run. The point is, when it comes to food, there isn’t a hard and fast “right” or “wrong” diet for all. A healthy diet can certainly make you feel better, but, in the age where information is flying about faster than hummingbirds in a hurricane, it’s important to leave nutritional advice to licensed medical experts (like Dr. Andrew Weil), to get your own nutritional needs assessed, and figure out what works best and is sustainable for your own body.


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The Big V: A “Love” Story

Sorry this post is a day late. I meant to post it ON Valentine’s Day, but work and lack of sleep due to stress made my brain too mushy to make real sense. Annnyywayy, take it in the spirit of V-Day, for which it was intended.

As an endurance athlete, especially a female endurance athlete, you get addicted to being tough. Or, maybe, like me, you wedded the idea of toughness long before becoming more serious about exercise. After years of being treated like a doormat and a pariah in middle school, having my first high school boyfriend break up with me and drag my heart through the mud for years afterward, I developed a kind of obsession with toughness. As I grew through my 20s and 30s, I found new ways to seem “tough,” “cool,” “impenetrable.” Only through my writing did I maintain the REAL me. In everyday life, learned to withdraw more and more, to guard my feelings, to always seem like I had it, “together.”

Our culture celebrates toughness. Too often we hear of “hero” stories, where a person pushed through excruciating pain and hardship to achieve a goal. We want to be inspired to achieve things, and to help us to push past our own weaknesses. Never once do we think that, sometimes, these weaknesses can also help us along in our journey.

Vulnerability. It’s a concept that recently slapped me in the face, and has subsequently seemed to come into the forefront of my life as I have experienced so many obstacles in my path over the past couple of years. I even notice the word itself popping out at me as I read people’s Facebook status posts, or get a fortune cookie, or read articles online.

Athletes are so afraid to admit vulnerability. When injured or laid up, we seek the shortest possible route to get back to doing what we do. We are terrified of starting over, of admitting defeat, and so we push past reasonable limits, until, “Uh-oh!” we really CAN’T do anything. Until something’s broken or torn or irreversible, it’s unacceptable to say, “Hey, maybe I need to slow down, to be in this moment of vulnerability,” because it’s scary. It’s so scary to be open, to admit that we need time for self care. Ironically, therein lies our TRUE strength.

I don’t know how to NOT push myself. It seems as though, every workout that I intend to be “slow and easy” ends up in a full-out sprint somewhere, or I take a hilly route, or end up glancing at my pace on my watch in anxious dismay. It is hard for me to be vulnerable and let my whole body agree to just “chilling out” and enjoying a relaxed workout.

In my personal life, I have trouble forming intimate relationships because I’m terrified that people will see me as my true self, which is not “cool” or “tough”– I’m often afraid to admit that I need connection. People in real life have often said that, on first meeting, I seem “aloof,” but the truth is I’m just a big dork, I’m sentimental, and I’m afraid of letting that part out, that I’m not always “perfect.” Wow, shocker, right?

I’m learning that it’s not the impressive things we do that give us the long term strength to carry us over the rough patches, and it’s not those things that make people really want to know us, and love us. It’s the times when we admit that we’re not infallible, that still sing along to Ace of Base in the shower, or that we walked at the top of that big hill because our muscles and tendons weren’t ready for major hill training yet, that we get to a better place in life with others and with ourselves. If that’s the case, being vulnerable is worth training for.

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