Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.

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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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Booty Kickin’ Fun!: A Training Story

Training for an Ironman, I always imagined that being in the best shape of my life would mean that I would also be the thinnest I’d ever been. I imagined a lean, mean, ripped body, and thought of it as a great bonus to challenging my mind and body to do things I never thought possible. What I got was an added 20 lbs, and a bonus 5 lbs afterward.


I thought I’d look like her after the Ironman. “Ha” and “Ha.”

Apparently, it’s pretty common for endurance athletes, especially women, to pile on added layers of fat as they train long hours. The body knows how to protect itself. Come to think of it, the most weight I actually lost during my journey was during the beginning stages of training for the half marathon, when we were running no more than 8 miles, and revving up the strength training and speed during the week. 

When I came to my friend, Beth Bishop, a personal trainer at Mansion Fitness in Hollywood, CA, with my weight gain woes, she told me in her no-nonsense manner, “stop with the long, slow distance.” Instead, she recommended I partake in a strength training regimen, that I record everything I eat, and that I partake in swimming for cardio (for now), and yoga for mobility. 

Here’s where I insert whining, because, for most of my life, strength training has been boring, and difficult, and I’ve hated it with a passion. Beth convinced me to attend her bootcamp on Wednesday night with promises of “it’s so much fun!”  I guess that, if I wanted even a fraction of that IronWoman body I’d once imagined, I should start here.

During the week, I diligently continued to do my morning smoothies. Keeping tabs of what I was putting into my body made me feel more accountable for measuring everything, and also for staying “honest” in terms of the items I chose. I kept my goals on the fridge and wrote them on the chalkboard contact paper on my cabinets.


Staying honest with my food made me feel more alive and healthy. I attended yoga on Saturday, actually got back on my bike with my amazing triathlete friend, Michelle, for just under 20 miles (on the Malibu PCH rolling hills even) on Sunday, and took another yoga class Monday night. During yoga on Monday, I noticed my tendons around my shins and ankles burning more than usual. When I woke up, I had Peroneal Tendinitis (inflammation around the tendon that runs under the ankle bone, and through the foot). I decided to skip yoga that evening, and plunged my foot into a bowl of ice water.


The best cure for tendinitis.

By Wednesday, the inflammation was pretty much gone, and, by evening time, I was ready to rock and roll with this bootcamp thing. Thankfully, my friend and fellow IronTeam-er, Tiffany, was there as well, and we buddied up to go through a circuit of stations, which included a wide array of challenging exercises, like, step-ups, army crawls, butterfly sit-ups, ball crunches, bench rows, chest press, weighted squats, kettle bell swings, treadmill intervals, and lateral Bosu ball squats. We made our way around each exercise, while house music pumped through the speakers, and Beth made her rounds, correcting our form or encouraging our hard work. By the end of the hour, my inner thighs felt cooked, and my arms could not push nor pull to save their life, but I was smiling, laughing, and, yes, having fun!


Tiffany and I smiling after our sweat session!

So, maybe, this strength training thing doesn’t have to be boring. It pushes me to do things I’m afraid to do because I think I’m not strong enough. I know that this is good for me in many ways.

Because she knows that I’m pretty tough on myself, another thing that Beth had me do, daily, was to write down one thing I’m grateful for. I utilized another chalkboard cabinet for this purpose, just as a reminder, to keep putting “gratitude in my attitude” even when my pants feel tight or I can’t quite “get” and exercise, or tendinitis creeps up to bite my ankle–it’s something I always have, and no one can take that away from me.


That being said, I think we’re off to a pretty good start here. 🙂

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Shorter Is Sweeter?: A Training Story

When you lose a big amount of weight through training for endurance sports, you tend to think that the only way you can maintain that weight loss is through continuing to do endurance sports. However, like anything, the body can get “used to” doing longer, slower distances, and mine, with its miraculous endomorphic properties, quickly learned to store more fat, whether or not I was burning up 15,000 calories in a single weekend. I loaded on 20 lbs over the course of the year training for an Ironman, and, while some of that might have been actual muscle, most of it was not, and, when I slowed things down to a crawl afterward, I loaded on at least another five. 

I thought I could get back there with more running, but, as I kept upping the distance of my runs, my body stubbornly resisted dropping any weight, even when i was hyperthyroid (which makes everyone else in the world lose weight, except me). My muscles fatigued and I overtrained. I was getting really frustrated. 

The doctor told me to scale back on my running, to really keep my diet limited to 1500 calories/day, and to watch my carbs. I began making protein smoothies in the morning, eating 10-15 nuts as a snack, and sticking to salads, cooked veggies & protein (meat) as meals, trying to avoid bread and pasta, except for Sunday, my “carbs if I want to” day, where I could have some kind of pasta or bread dish for dinner. Still, I felt sore and unrecovered, so I went to my personal trainer friend, Beth Bishop, for advice.

Beth advised that I cut the whole endurance routine, and start strength training if I wanted to lean out and drop those stubborn lbs. She told me to lay off running altogether for a few weeks to let myself heal, and she recommended I get myself back in the pool. Tomorrow, I’m going in to have a fitness evaluation with her to see where I am and what I need to do, and I’ll probably join her bootcamp on Wednesday nights. 

It’s going to be a lot of change for me, but I think that my body needs a new challenge. So, for now I’m going to see where this adventure in strength training takes me: I’ll be a “Pumping Iron”Woman! 


Fear my guns! (Not really, but…)

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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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Weighing In On The Biggest Loser: A Body Image Story

Photo: Trey Patton/NBC

Photo: Trey Patton/NBC

This week I saw a wave of tweets and Facebook posts commenting on the dramatic weight loss of “The Biggest Loser” winner, Rachel Frederickson. Most people I saw commented about how emaciated she was, and how the show had gone “too far” to allow a person to lose 60 percent of their body weight in such a short period of time. Then, there was the retaliation, mostly from feminists, that body shaming was body shaming, whether a person was overweight or underweight, and that the public should have left this poor woman alone. And here’s where my brain goes haywire with complexities.

Let me start by saying that I do not watch the show. I abhor the idea of making a spectacle of shaming people to lose weight, exhibiting larger than life bodies as circus freaks, made to do “tricks” like walking on balance beams and fishing weights out of swimming pools while the whole world watches. I hate that their idea of “inspiration” is pushing people until they throw up, setting a very disturbing mindset that weight loss is the ONLY thing that matters, and that, if you don’t lose weight, you’re ruining not only your life, but the life of everyone else around you. The dramatic number fluctuations on the scale make the whole world believe that 10 lbs of weight loss in one week is normal, nay, EXPECTED, and perfectly acceptable, er, desirable.

Some sick cultural mindset created this show. Weight loss messaging has amplified in the U.S., but the population continues to get heavier. That’s pretty much proof that fat shaming does not work, right? At any rate, millions of people tune in every week to watch people like them get put through the rigorous ringer of training, starvation (not dieting–come on), and other shenanigans, as some part of a sadistic fantasy seeded to them by billions of subliminal messages served to their skulls every day.

BUT…at the most basic level, this is a game show. It is not reality, and those who participate are putting themselves on display for their weight loss to be catalogued, their bodies to be shamed (they have to weigh themselves shirtless, because, lord knows that a t-shirt weighs SO much, and not because the producers want to show their fat bulging out over pants and under sports bras). That people are commenting on the over-the-top weight loss of the latest finalist, well, isn’t that the POINT of the show? If you’re not going to react to the contestants’ weight, why bother with watching?

For my own personal reaction to this, mostly, I feel sad. I feel sad that our culture has created a show like this,and, while Jillian Michaels, in her own book, addresses changing the mind before even thinking about changing the body, shows like The Biggest Loser seek to reinforce the superficiality of our cultural “quick fix” mentality. Real life weight loss  is NOT like “The Biggest Loser” or any other TV produced weight loss show. Real life involves reinforcing habits every day, it’s about hitting road blocks, stress, and set points. It involves losing weight AND gaining weight, and learning to accept yourself at whatever weight.

Weight loss or gain is NOT a value judgment of your character. It is merely a reflection of your current circumstances, whatever they may be. Being overweight or underweight, you are still you, and you are good enough.

I wish we could remove the pain and the stigma from weight. I wish people would learn to stop internalizing and damaging themselves further. And I wish that we could stop judging others as harshly as we judge ourselves.

How about a show where no one competes, but everyone grows, and weighs whatever they want to weigh, and learns to love themselves? Eh, who am I kidding? No one would watch that.



Catalina Curtailed: A Health Story

I really thought I had it, that my energy issues were behind me, and that I was ready to move on. After having my thyroid medication dosage reduced (my blood panel results said I was taking too much), I had started incorporating long runs into my workout schedule in preparation for the Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon in March.

At first, I was feeling great, on top of the world. Then, after last week’s and this week’s runs, long and short, left me with the old “running at top speed in a hurricane-force headwind” feeling, I began to wonder if something was still up with me, health wise.

I saw Dr. Shammas today and when I detailed my training plan, she told me I should probably cool it with the long runs, that my body, just two months out from having a major surgery, was probably not ready for such an aggressive regimen. Instead, she recommended shorter distances, and that I exercise non-aggressively six days a week, instead of five.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but, after everything I’ve been through, I’ve learned to listen to my body, and I know, deep down, she’s right. I shouldn’t have tried to push so soon after surgery. I just miss the feeling of being able to run forever and ever, that freedom, there’s nothing like it. I guess I’ll have to get it in smaller doses now, until I work my way back up.

I suppose that it’s good timing, with me starting my new role within my company, and getting up to speed, traveling and such. It’s not really an ideal time to be training for distance running.

Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning to be very, very virtuous. :-/

Sidelined again...le sigh!

Sidelined again…le sigh!