On New Fitness Goals

Running is Gone—Now What?

As I noted in an earlier post, I was never athletic, so the fact that I not only RAN, but ran LONG DISTANCES still brings a thrill to my heart. I was perhaps the least fit person in my entire graduating class, perhaps my entire school. Yet I had, in my 40s, run a half-marathon. And then another one. And another one after that. Eventually, there were 14 of them, 15 if you include the one I ran on the track at the gym.

Enter Cycling

My now ex-boyfriend was not a runner. Rather, he cycled. Indeed, he worked on my bike (an old Trek 850 XC mountain bike) when we first got together, although it would be many months before we would actually ride together. Last February, I suffered a stress fracture, no doubt exacerbated by an “oh, it’ll go away, so I’ll run on it” kind of attitude. After my stress fracture healed, I took a real spin on my bike, something other than errands. I completed six miles. Six whole miles! At once! I don’t think I did that since I bought the bike back when I lived in Iowa City.*.Wow!

We started riding together in the summer—first 10 miles, then 12, then 15, then 20. I was hooked. Not exactly a fast cyclist (then again, I was never a fast runner), but a cyclist in it for distance and endurance. I loved the feeling of accomplishment I got whenever my mileage topped the previous ride. It was (almost) the same feeling I got whenever I finished my long runs, looking at the total mileage on my trusty Garmin GPS watch. Cycling is the new running.

So, Where Am I Going With This?

Well, the short answer is 50 miles from where I start! Actually, much like my first half-marathon, I now have an athletic or fitness goal to aim for. And to train for. A half-century ride (fyi, that’s a 50-mile bike ride). I’ve already completed a metric half-century (50 km). Now I’m aiming for half based on miles.

I find that, for me, having a fitness goal, one with a defined outcome, works for me. I know what it is, where it is, and what I need to do to get there. I may use this blog to keep semi-public tabs on myself as a form of motivation (along with the Excel spreadsheet I’m using to keep track of my training). But I feel inspired and driven now that I’ve identified this objective. And I KNOW I’ll meet it (I even have a deadline—August 31, 2017).

Insomnia as Therapist

 

2:17 AM and I am not just awake, but alert. Completely, totally, alert. Crossword puzzles for 45 minutes, reading a book for another hour, maybe a 15-20 minute foray into the living room for meditation if the house is warm enough. If this were just one night in a run of otherwise solid nocturnal sleeping, I could tolerate this better. But this is one of many–early waking and not falling back to sleep. I’ve been prone to these episodes for decades, at least since graduate school. And until this morning, I’d dismissed them as negatives, thieves depriving me of that vaunted sleep that, even in the best of circumstances, isn’t quite as long as I’d like it to be.

Morning Pages As Lexapro

Julia Cameron, creativity guru and author of the classic getting-unstuck text The Artist’s Way, has developed a method to clear the detritus from one’s head call “Morning Pages”. This is three pages of writing—stream of (un)consciousness, extemporaneous, thought-purging, unedited—done in longhand (never typed!) and completed first thing in the morning. Cameron claims this sweeps the junk out of one’s brain so that the real writing (or creating) can begin. I’d heard of this as a creativity tool and about 10 days ago, decided to give it a try. To complete the three pages takes me approximately half-an-hour. I’m writing, not thinking, just writing what comes into my head. Sometimes it’s “good morning, morning pages”, sometimes it more consequential. Sometimes it’s “I have to pee” in the middle of page two. The key is that it is for one’s own eyes (not shared) and it’s not “artistry”.  It really is a preparation for the day, so that creativity has room to come in unimpeded.

In the time that I started these, I’ve gone from being in a relationship (long-distance) to being single again. So admittedly, I have a Lot. On. My. Mind. This would be trying enough with a solid night’s sleep, but I’m working through this on sleep deficit (a LOT of sleep deficit!) So, while I’m tired when I get out of bed, my core is anxious and nervous, precluding any additional sleep. The morning pages, though, have been a godsend for this agnostic.

I’m nervous, restless, apprehensive when I start the them. Yet sometime into page two, I clearly feel my chest relaxing and I start feeling hopeful (reflected in the writing). I write the nerves, the thoughts, the concerns, the shame, the guilt, the anger, the embarrassment, literally (and yes, I know what literally means) experiencing the anxiety leaving my body.

Revelations 1:1

So, Insomnia. You always made me angry, keeping me from sleep. I thought of you as, at best, a cruel trickster. A nasty motherfucker. A hated visitor.

Until this morning. As I was writing today’s morning pages, I was suddenly struck by the thought that you, Insomnia, are more of an angel. You wake me up in the middle of the night to wear down my defenses when I arise for the day. Even if I do eventually fall back asleep for an hour or two, I’m still exhausted upon waking. And Insomnia, I see what you’re doing. You’re weakening me so that I must, MUST deal with my troubles. I must face them. I’m too tired to fight my heightened emotions. I can’t hide from the anger or relief or shame or tears. And thus I deal with them. Insomnia, you make me confront my fears and my tears so that I can get THROUGH sooner and EMERGE stronger sooner. In short, Insomnia, you prod me out the door to face the elements, much like a good therapist.

Thanks.

Dry February–Three Weeks In

I’ve completed three weeks of Dry February and physically, I feel fabulous. I feel strong and fit and YOUNG. I have no cravings for sweets (my big indulgence is nuts these days). The 30-mile bike ride I completed did NOT leave me exhausted–I’m sure I could’ve added another couple of miles. And afterward, I wasn’t ravenous. Yes, I ate afterward to replenish my glycogen (the über-whole grain German bread, the kind with the visible kernels, spread with peanut butter and topped with sliced bananas). But usually I’d have something hyper-sweet and I’d have trouble with sugar all day (yes, I’d famously overeat and overeat).  Even the inflammation in my foot has lessened. I may continue this into March!

AN ELEGY FOR RUNNING

The Last Run

The last time I went on a serious run was January 5, 2016. I ran 7.09 miles, interspersed with a few walk breaks. It must’ve been outdoors, because I got the mileage down to the hundredths, only possible with my trusty Garmin running watch. With the exception of a quarter-mile here and there, I have not run since.

Awakening the Athlete Within

I had never been athletic as a child or teen, something typically precluded when you are overweight or, by the time I graduated high school, morbidly obese. Weight loss followed, a significant one of over 100 lbs., which I largely kept off save for a couple of episodes (the start of graduate school and the year before my tenure review). By “largely” keeping it off, I mean within 20 pounds—not bad for starting at 254 lbs.

In my sort-of-young adulthood, walking became exercise for me. I’d dieted the weight off, but I never incorporated exercise and some of the weight crept back a bit. Walking was a joy—fitness plus “me” time (though I don’t know if “me” time had been invented yet). This was good.

Some time during graduate school, I started powerwalking the neighborhoods and hills of Newark, Delaware (yes, I was a Fighting Blue Hen), also adopting the now-excoriated low fat diet. I dropped weight and became, for the first time in my life, gorgeous (I’d been cute before, but for a couple of years, I daresay I was marginally stunning). Curvaceous, long red hair (thank you, L’Oreal!), combined with a pretty face (yeah, I heard that one when I was obese). For someone who once had an English teacher tell her to “get off your considerable rear”, this newfound conventional attractiveness was like candy (Three Musketeers, because I was following low-fat). I was even stopped on the street once, with a young man telling me that I was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen (and then he drove off). I felt feminine as well as feminist. Heaven!

Armed (and legged) with a new-born body, I decided it was time to ramp things up in the exercise department. I was going to RUN. Starting small (a block here and there), I eventually built up to running my very first 5K, the 28th Annual Turkey Trot in November of 2001. I ran slowly (I have always run slowly), but I was hooked.

Fast forward about nine months—while finishing my dissertation, I moved to Iowa City to teach for a year on contract at the University of Iowa. By October, I’d run my second 5K. And in the spring of 2003, my third. And in July of 2003, my fourth. Then a move to take a job at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Welcome to Indiana

Muncie is very, very flat. While that sounds like an advantage to a runner, Iowa City was full of small hills and I’d become quite proficient running UP the hills (I’d even overtake other runners during a race). I missed the topography, but kept up with my running.

On May 1, 2004, I ran in the Burris 75th Anniversary 5k (Burris was 75, not the race). It was cold and miserable, with a steady rain. I slogged through and somehow wound up winning my age group. I got a trophy!

Let me put that victory in a little perspective. The weather kept the turnout low (and many people who’d signed up failed to show up). I finished behind a 66-year old man. The person who was third in my age group WALKED. To me it mattered little. Formerly morbidly obese and completely unathletic Petra now had an athletic trophy to put on her shelf.

So, I continued running and one day that summer, I ran five miles. Five whole miles! I’d never done that in a single session before! Emboldened by my rising confidence, I went to the website of the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon and registered for the 2005 race. As soon as I entered my credit card number on the website and clicked Send, I said to myself “my god what have I done”.  This was a 13.1 mile race and I’d only run 5 miles. Once. Well, I knew I had time to train and that’s just what I did.

For those of you unfamiliar with this race, the Mini (as it’s endearingly called locally) is the nation’s largest half-marathon, with 35,000 participants. It’s a spectacle—TV coverage, residents cheering on the runners, bands and other entertainers. To me, it seemed magical.

The First One

About a week or so before the race, my hip started hurting me. This worried me, but I decided to run what I could and walk what I couldn’t. I got to Indy at about 6:15 in the morning and miraculously found a parking space about a block or two from the start. I was chilly and nervous, but those nerves were ones of excitement mixed with a little fear. Being a back-of-the-pack runner, my cohort started about 20-25 minutes after the elite runners (read: Kenyans).  But start we (and I) did.

Within the first mile of the race, I found a twenty-dollar bill (surely a good omen!) and as I continued to run, my hip stopped hurting. I ran and ran and ran, eventually crossing the finish line. Perhaps one of the proudest moments in my life was when a race volunteer placed a finisher’s medal on my neck after completing the race. I felt prouder than when I received my Ph.D.

Since Then

Since that first Mini, I ran ten more (for eleven total), the Fort 4 Fitness half in Fort Wayne, the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, the Urban Bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky, and even an unofficial one on the elevated track at Ball Gym on the BSU camous (158 laps, in case you’re interested).

Back to January 2016—my foot started bothering me again (this was a couple of weeks after my last run—winters were more typically spent on the rowing machine at home). After the foot wasn’t healing, I made an appointment with my podiatrist. He diagnosed a stress fracture and I had to refrain from running or any other exercise putting extra pressure on that foot (I was cleared for walking, albeit in one of those ugly shoes). He pointed out that because I have a bunion, my foot was unstable and further fractures were likely. Indeed, I’d already had several bone bruises in the same spot.

After my fracture healed, I walked more and tried some very minor running breaks in between walking. By the summer, I was cycling, a fitness activity more conducive to working out sans injury. While I thought my running days were over, I harbored a secret hope that one day I would run another half-marathon. However, that was not to be.

Last week, I saw my podiatrist again, because I’d been having some discomfort in a different part of the same previously injured foot. Then I asked about bunion surgery. My mother had it done decades earlier and she remembered it being fairly benign. However, the good doctor showed me the xrays and noted that any surgery performed on my foot would be complicated—cutting a wedge and lengthening a metatarsal, cutting another wedge in a different metatarsal, and putting a plate in my ankle to give me an arch. And then he recommended against surgery unless my foot problems were severely impacting the quality of my life. I knew then I’d never do any serious running again.

Epilogue

I miss running. Cycling is fun, indeed I’ve improved and today I even went on a 30-mile ride, despite not having trained outdoors for some time (it IS winter, although we had a remarkably warm—66°F—day). But while I’m excited to mark my progression into higher mileage, I don’t get the exact same satisfaction cycling as I do running. So goodbye running. I loved you.

The First Real Dry February Temptations–Avoided!

Well, so far this had been going swimmingly–I had a better handle on my diet, I wasn’t craving anything verboten, and my skin even looked better! Alas, at dinner on Saturday night (at a bar/pub/grill type of place), I was sorely tempted to add a beer to my order of a vegetarian Cobb salad. I didn’t, but I really did want to have that beer. How odd, since I’m not really a beer drinker, preferring cocktails and highballs to all things ale. And today I’m feeling a bit anxious and a glass of sparkling wine would be just the ticket. But again, I said “no”.

I DID treat myself to some exotics today–a Hawaiian papaya and a Chinese white pear. Honestly, I’d never even heard of a white pear. But they exist and I am now the proud owner. I haven’t eaten it yet, because I do need to admire it for a few days first!

Dry February–The First Big Test

The first few days of my Dry February went by relatively easily, given that I don’t drink that much and I generally eat healthy during the week. On the weekends, I give myself leeway to indulge.

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to Indianapolis for a few errands, namely for me to start looking at bicycles, since I’m getting more serious about the sport. Given that my current bike is a mountain bike and I do my rides largely on paved trails, roads, and bike lanes AND given that my mileage increased last year, I decided to get a road bike. Mike is a cyclist and this is something we do together, him on his fancy carbon fiber Fuji road bike, me on my almost-20-year-old Trek 850 mountain bike. But I’d be a more efficient rider (and faster, so I wouldn’t slow him down) on a road bike. So, off we went to Performance Bicycle and Bicycle Garage Indy to check out some bikes. Unfortunately, it was too cold to test-ride them, so I’ll have to do that some other weekend. But I started to get a feel for the different kinds of frames and the price$.

We decided to eat at Athens on 86th, a Greek restaurant on, you guessed it, 86th St. And this is when I realized that I might have to look at a limited number of options on the menu. No gyros or souvlakis (or any other sandwiches) because of the white flour pitas. Nothing with breading. Nothing with rice mixed in. No moussaka or pastitsio  (white pasta, white potatoes, bechamel made from white flour). And it was cold, so I really wasn’t in the mood for a salad. BUT, I DID find something I could order–Gigantes, kind of like Greek lima beans baked in a spiced tomato sauce. This was unbelievably good! And hot! And allowable under my Dry February rules!

Because I don’t go out to eat that often (maybe once a week), I hadn’t considered the restaurant aspect. However, I am delighted to report that I did not break my rules, nor did I create a new exception. Yay, me!

Day 2–Dry February

Well, I’m well into Day 2 of Dry February (and about 36 hours into my Facebook Fast). No alcohol, no sugar or sugary sweeteners, no white stuff. Except for one of my exceptions–caffeinated energy gel. Yes, it was Endurance Day at the gym, so I powerwalked for 90 minutes (at least a good 5 miles) after warming up with 15 minutes on a rower (first time on one of those in months). Finished with 15 minutes of slow walking to cool down. Did NOT indulge in my usual sugary treat afterwards. BUT I did have a skinny Starbucks mocha this afternoon, after which I decided to add sugar substitutes to the list of banned foods. Frankly, they aren’t any better for me!

And I DID refrain from eating muesli for breakfast/brunch, because there are sweetened cranberries in the mix. I am really going to be that much of a stickler!

Dry February

Warning—LONG!!!!!!

Warning–This is actually a Facebook post from 1/31/17

So, I didn’t know “Dry January” was a thing. Until today, January 31, the last day of Dry January. Maybe I wasn’t aware because it’s more of a UK thing and, well, I’m not in the UK. Basically, the idea is to abstain from alcohol for the month of January, kind of like a one-month Lenten practice, but for booze.  Perhaps January was chosen to counter the excesses of the holidays (although for many Americans, No Sugar January might be more appropriate!) Whatever the reason, the concept is very workable.

Why am I going on about Dry January? Well, I am currently enjoying a very uncharacteristic midweek cocktail. And why am I drinking a cocktail on a Tuesday afternoon? Because I’m going to give this Dry January thing a try, But I’m going to tweak it a little bit. First change—the month. This will be my Dry FEBRUARY.  Also, since I only have alcohol on weekends (and even then, not to excess), I’ll need some additional changes. After all, cycling season will be here before we know it AND I’ve been straying from the eating plan that has served me well for so long (i.e. I’ve had more carbs than usual, fewer vegetables than usual). So, here we go with Petra’s Dry February.

PETRA’S DRY FEBRUARY RULES

  1. Abstain from alcohol with the following exception: if booze is an ingredient in cooking, I will allow myself to cook with it. I AM a foodie, after all.
  2. Refrain from added sugar (and honey and maple syrup and white grape juice and you get the picture) EXCEPT for Muncie Meatless Monday or if I’m invited to someone’s home and they serve something with added sugar (you know, like a dessert). And except for that high-fiber apple-cranberry muffin from Trader Joe’s that I plan to have for breakfast.
  3. And while I’m at it, refrain from the “white stuff”—white flour, white pasta, white rice, and potatoes. With the same exceptions as noted in Rule 2.
  4. And also refrain from buying any cooking shit—gadgets, small appliances, serveware. I’m already refraining (until Sept. 1) from purchasing any cookbooks and magazines of any stripe. Food, yeah, I’ll buy food.
  5. NO FACEBOOK! I will be available on Messenger and via text (if you have my phone number), but I’m getting off Facebook for a month. So if I don’t “like” your post, it’s because I haven’t friggin’ seen it! I’ll get on one last time tomorrow morning to say goodbye, and then it’ll be four Facebook-free weeks for me.

So, with all of these things that I’m deleting from my life (for a month), what will I do to fill my life?

  1. Working out more. Yes, I’m pretty good about getting in a weekly endurance workout of at least 90 minutes, but it’s the shorter ones that I am more prone to excuse my way out of. And I will vary my training a bit more—currently it’s just weights and cycling, but I’m going to add powerwalking and maybe the elliptical. And, BSU folks, they’ve added a Concept 2 rowing machine near the track at Ball Gym!
  2. I have two blogs that I’ve neglected (and frankly, I have been busy). I hope to get at least one post on both of them this Dry February. Honestly, as long as this status is, it should’ve been a blog post. And maybe it will be J
  3. More meditation. I had been meditating regularly twice a day, but now my average is about 1.5 times a day. It’s not a panacea for life’s stresses, but I shudder to think how I’d feel WITHOUT it. FYI, meditation has been a regular part of my life for almost two years now.
  4. Eat green leafy vegetables. ‘Nuff said.

So, I’ll say my goodbyes on the morning of the first. And, since you might get a notification, February 18 isn’t my real birthday 😉