Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


Leave a comment

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.

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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?


Leave a comment

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!


2 Comments

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!


Leave a comment

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?


Leave a comment

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.

Image

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.

ImageImage

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.

Image

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!

Image

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.

Image

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


Leave a comment

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! 

Image

Fear my guns! (Not really, but…)