Category Archives: fitness

Health Kick: Learning to Run. Again.

It was about two years ago at this time that I started training to run a half marathon, an undertaking that I considered to be fairly ludicrous, but one I somehow managed to complete.  I trained over the winter, in snow, ice, what have you, and by the time I ran the half in New Orleans in late February, I was so used to running in the cold that I pretty much overheated in New Orleans’ pleasant 60 degree weather.

Somewhere along in there I actually really started to like running.  Well, that’s not quite accurate. I often didn’t like the actual act of running, particularly starting a run. But it became my favorite way to exercise- outdoors, solo, music in my ears, rhythmic, efficient.

And then I got pregnant, tried running for a while, gave up, had a kid, moved to a new house, quit the gym, went back to work, tried to fit into my pants, ate more than my fair share of doughnuts, and finally thought “huh, I should probably just start running again.”

So here I am, very slowly trying to figure this all out again.  Wondering why, if I could run 13 miles just two years ago, a quick 2 miler sometimes makes me fear my lungs will burst.  Feeling lucky if I can squeeze in two runs a week instead of the 4-5 I was doing before. Cursing the alarm clock when it bleats at me at 5:30, when the baby is miraculously still sleeping and honestly shouldn’t I be sleeping too but I have TRIED working out after dinner and it just doesn’t work so it’s now or never, self. Get out of bed.

I’m slow. My heel hurts. I feel stupid in my traffic-cone-orange pullover that I wear to make sure I’m visible during my pre-dawn runs.

But today, I took my first run in bel0w-freezing temperatures and even though it kind of sucked, even though I got a cramp and my breathing never found a rhythm, the cold air and the pre-dawn light (thank you, end of daylight saving time, for putting that pink glow back in the sky,) felt good. I was glad to be out there.

Because I am a crazy person, I’ve committed to running the same half I ran two years ago, in New Orleans in early March.  (Full disclosure: I am running it as a relay with a friend, because for all my big talk, I’m not at all convinced I’ll be able to squeeze in ten mile training runs over the winter on icy roads with no gym membership to give me a treadmill backup. I’m not THAT crazy.) This does mean that at some point, I’m going to have to start running more than a 5K at a time, which right now seems kind of laughable. But I think it’s good to have a goal because otherwise, I might not do this at all.

So, friends, you’ve been warned. I’m probably going to start talking about running again. I’ll try to keep the douchey self-reflective posts like this one to a minimum, but I can make no promises.

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Health Kick (Renewed)

So I went to my doctor yesterday for the all important six week appointment, and got the All Clear for all that stuff, including exercise.

The exercise part I was pretty excited about. See, I go back to work in five weeks. (Pause to say: holy shit, five weeks. That means seven weeks are already gone. Time flies when you never sleep longer than three hours at a stretch!)

Like I was saying: going back to work in not-so-distant future. And while my office is mercifully pretty casual, court is not. And even my casual office would probably frown (or at least heave a semi-exasperated sigh) if I showed up in yoga pants.

As a tall person with a naturally slim frame, I got super lucky in the pregnancy department, and though I gained many pounds (“more than optimal!” chirped my OB at one appointment) I do not LOOK dramatically changed. For this I am grateful. But when I try on my regular clothes, I realize: things are Not The Same. There has been…shifting. And some carrying of extra padding. This needs to be addressed.

So my goal is simple: fit into my clothes. Because if there is one thing I do not want to do, it is spend a single red cent on intermediate-sized khakis. Seriously. I won’t do it. And suits? Allow me to say that if I have to spend more than a hundred dollars, and possibly multiple hundreds of dollars, to purchase a suit in a size or two larger, I…well, I’m not going to take it well. I hate suits. I will not give suits the satisfaction of purchasing even one more than I absolutely have to. If I look like a sausage squeezed into my pants the first few times back in court? SO BE IT.

LONG WAY OF SAYING: I started working out again today. I began with Level 1 of the 30 Day Shred, because it is fast, and I can do it in the room next door to where Poppy is napping. The good news: I got through it, and managed to work out, have a shower, blow dry, AND eat a snack before Poppy woke up! I win the morning! The bad news: it was UGLY. Good grief, I have lost just about everything I ever attained fitness-wise, it seems. Even though I worked out through my 40th week, apparently prenatal yoga is not that great at keeping up your strength and cardiovascular endurance. Who knew?

So I start all over again. 30 Day Shred, running when John is home to watch the baby, maybe some yoga mixed in. I have five weeks to get into the “I can button my pants” zone. Wish me luck.

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Things I learned running my first half marathon

Do not eat anything new on race day.  I knew this, I did, and yet somehow when I got to the Gu station at mile 9 I was like “hey! Free gu!” and sucked a whole one into my mouth.  HUGE, gut-wrenching mistake.  Literally.  Let’s leave it at that.

When you pass the race photographer on mile nine and decide that it would be really funny/cool to make a badass face at him, reconsider.  No, seriously:


Bring Kleenex.  At the last second before leaving the hotel, I stuck a couple of Kleenexes in my pocket.  This came in very handy when the porta potties near the starting line ran out of toilet paper and there were huge long lines of women waiting for the few that still had paper.  I was able to dash into one of the ones that had none, bypassing the line.

If you’ve trained over the winter in Chicago, you may feel like a total weather badass, but you will be ill-prepared for heat.  Remember to drink water, probably at every station, so you don’t enter mile 11 feeling like a dessicated lump.

If at all possible, run in a city with many delicious options for entirely decadent post-race food.  This might be the only time you can have a huge fried oyster po’boy totally guilt-free.  Followed by beignets.  According to Erin’s Body Bugg, we burned a couple thousand calories running that thing, and I made every effort to eat them all back that afternoon.

Bring a sherpa/fan/individual cheerleading section.  Alice came down to cheer us on and I swear to god, seeing her homemade poster saying “go pseudo!” 100 yards from the finish line was the only thing that gave me the boost to sprint for the end.  Plus, she very kindly carried my gear bag for me so I could avoid gear check.  PLUS she kept me company so I didn’t have to wander around the city alone with my nerves on Saturday.  And she drank Pimms Cups with me out of plastic cups in the middle of the day.  Good friend, that Alice.

Alice pimms cup

Do not schedule your flight out of town for the night of the race.  You will sit down in your plane seat, bound for a work trip to California, and four hours later you will actually have to grab onto the seat in front of you and hoist yourself up by your arms to disembark, because your legs will have frozen in protest and be unwilling to help.

Relatedly: don’t go on a work trip to California the day after the race.

Run with friends.  I joined this NOLA training group kind of on a whim, but I’m so glad I did.  I got to train with the lovely and amazing Danielle and Erin, and we shuffled through the starting corrals together with Linda, which helped calm my nerves, and then afterwards I got to hang out with AB and Vince, the funniest residents of Monroe, Louisiana that I’ve ever met.  I was proud of myself for running, but it was the crowd that made the whole thing into a party.

You CAN do this.  I ran my first 5K, a torturous, sputtering affair, less than a year ago.  I spent the first 30 years of my life telling anyone who would listen how unathletic I am, how I have asthma, how I can’t run outside.   And then, I did this.  I’m still kind of stunned.

marathon finish

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Fitness Foibles: Runners World Edition

Our building has an area down by the trash and recycling room where you can put magazines that you’re done reading.  This is a BRILLIANT idea, and I now get to read InStyle and Real Simple on a regular basis without paying for them.  (Don’t worry, I give, too- my discarded People magazines are always snapped up quickly.)

Last week sometime, I noticed a new-looking copy of Runner’s World sitting on the pile.  It appears, after a year of running more than one mile in a row at least 2-3 times a week, that I am sort of a runner now (no one is more surprised than me), so I picked it up.

Dude.  DUDE.  Runners speak like a whole different language.  Reading 2 pages of that magazine was enough to make me freak out, conclude that I’m not really a runner after all, and hide the magazine under the bed.

But I went back to it a few days later and read an article describing some of the ways you can mix up your running workout.  I’m definitely guilty of getting into a rut with my standard 3.5-4 miles runs at moderate pace, so I was interested, but like I said, this magazine doesn’t really speak my language.  Tempo runs? Mile repeats? Say what?

(Also, the article recommended “warming up at a brisk jog for 35-40 minutes before starting your workout” which: HAAAAAAAAA.)

So I didn’t think much of it.

Then yesterday, as I was heading out on my run, I had to pick up the pace to catch a green light.  For whatever reason (honestly?  It was seeing Kristen’s before and after pictures earlier in the day.  Holy GOD) I decided that I would run the first half of my usual loop at the fastest pace I could.  I wanted to see how fast I could do it, and thought I’d take a nice easy jog home after.

So I ran absolutely, lung-crushingly, balls-out, and completed the first half of my loop in 13 minutes.    At which point I doubled over and gasped for air for about a minute, then took another two minutes to walk and catch my breath before I started jogging gently back to our house, where I arrived…15 minutes later.

Did you catch that?  The difference between running 1.8 miles at a pace that made me truly worry that I might vomit and a pace that felt like a gentle jaunt I could maintain for miles and miles was a lousy TWO MINUTES?  Would someone PLEASE remind me of this the next time I go out too fast at the start of a run and nearly kill myself, hobbling miserably by the end?  The difference of a few seconds, which I certainly lose later in the run when I’m praying for death, is NOT WORTH IT.

On the plus side, I ran a 7:16 mile pace for that first part- I really think that 7 minute mile might be doable.  Maybe that will be my goal for the mind-numbing treadmill runs during the snowy season….

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Running Music

I need music to run, particularly ouside.  If I do not have music, I focus even more on all the things I’d rather be doing than running (for example: sleeping, eating chocolate chip cookies, flossing.)  As I mentioned in my last post, some songs passed the “10K test”; others did not.

10K worthy:

  • I Love Rock ‘n Roll, Joan Jett
  • Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Jay-Z
  • Boom Boom Pow, Black Eyed Peas
  • Titus Andronicus, Titus Andronicus
  • Ruby, Kaiser Chiefs
  • Whatever You Like, TI
  • The 59 Sound, Gaslight Anthem
  • Song Away, Hockey
  • Twist, Frightened Rabbit
  • In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel
  • The Seed (2.0), The Roots
  • The Underdog, Spoon
  • Troublemaker, Weezer
  • Paper Planes, MIA

Kicked off the playlist (good songs, all, they just weren’t getting it done for me during the long run):

  • Universal Mind Control, Common
  • Should’ve Said No, Taylor Swift (Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either)
  • My Doorbell, White Stripes

My problem now is I’m getting to a point where I’m really used to hearing all the songs on my running playlist, and need some new ones.  Suggestions? Please? I like all kinds- hip hop, rock, goopy pop, cheesy country- as long as it’ll keep me running, I’m open.

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Fitness Foibles: Stealth Tooter Edition

As I would imagine is the case at a lot of gyms, there’s sort of a usual crowd to the spin classes I go to.  There’s heavy-sweating super expensive bike gear guy, who has special spinning shoes and gel-butt bike shorts, and gloves, and racing shirts.  There’s gazelle girl, who is at least 6 feet tall, is 90% leg, and wears little spandex shorts the size of a postage stamp.  There’s grandma, who is totally inspiring and comes every week in her bike shorts and 80s era t-shirts to huff through the workout with the rest of the 20- and 30- somethings.  My personal favorite is wrestling outfit guy, who wears, I swear to god, those little spandex shorts with the overall suspenders, like wrestlers wear, often with no shirt on underneath:

Hot, right?

But every week, there are a few randoms who show up.

This week, one of the randoms was: a Stealth Tooter.

Look, let’s be honest.  Farting during a workout is a fact of life.  We’ve all done it.  I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I have never let one escape while I was working hard on the elliptical, or doing my one millionth lunge.

But this was something else entirely.  This was not a few isolated toots, it was a constant barrage of SBDs.  (Silent but deadlies.)  The corner where my bike was located developed a perma-fart smell.  I found myself looking around at the people on the bikes nearby, wondering if anyone looked embarrassed, or whether I could get any other hint about the source of the problem.  No such luck.

How could someone be this flatulent and not realize it or show any indication of embarrassment?  Is it possible to be that tooty and not realize it in the throes of a particularly challenging workout?  That thought caused me to have a brief, horrifying moment where I wondered if *I* was the stealth tooter, and just didn’t realize it.

But then, about 15 minutes before class ended, random girl on the bike in front of me got up, wiped down her bike, and left class early.  And the smell miraculously disappeared.  So that cleared that up.

But it left me wondering: what is the ettiquette on workout gas issues?  I mean, the occasional unavoidable fart is a fact of life, but if one morning you discover that you’re really a gas machine, do you soldier on and pretend nothing’s happening, knowing that the people around you are being subjected to an awful lot of smelliness?  Do you press on but acknowledge that it’s you by saying “excuse me”?  Or should you just bail on the class entirely, so as not to subject your fellow gym-goers to such an unpleasant olfactory experience so early in the morning?

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One of us has the competitive gene. GUESS WHICH ONE?

The scene: Lincoln Park, around 8:30 am Saturday morning, where we have just finished running my first-ever 5K

Pseudo: Wheeze.  Wheeze wheeze wheeze.  Holy crap I did it!  I might barf.

John: You did it! And faster than you thought you could!  Good job!

Pseudo: It WAS fast, wasn’t it?  Go me!

John: I knew it!

Pseudo: Knew what?

John: Knew you could go faster if you were pushed!

Pseudo: Pushed?

John: Like, if I went out at a faster pace than you were used to!

Pseudo: I thought you said you did that just at the beginning, to get us a better position in a less crowded part of the pack?

John: Well, yeah, that was part of it, but the other part was that I had a goal.

Pseudo: You had a goal?

John: But I didn’t want to tell you about it.

Pseudo: You had a secret goal?

John: I wanted us to run it in under 27 minutes.  I knew if I told you that, you’d freak out and say you couldn’t do it, so I decided to just run faster than you wanted and make you keep up.

Pseudo: So even though my self-proclaimed goal was just to finish, because this was my first-ever race and I was nervous, you decided to make it about speed anyway, though I’d specifically asked you not to?

John: Yep! I knew you could do it!

Pseudo: And back around the third mile when I felt like I might die and I was having trouble breathing and wondering why my inhaler didn’t seem to be working- that was you?   You were doing that ON PURPOSE?

John: Yeah! Isn’t it great? You ran so fast!

Pseudo: And now, when I’m sitting here trying my hardest not to barf, wondering why I’ve never felt like I needed to hurl at the end of a run before- you caused that? INTENTIONALLY?

John: Uh Huh! Awesome job, sweetie!

Pseudo: On second thought, maybe I want to barf after all.  ON YOU.


(Um, except now that I’m recovered from the barfy feeling, I’m kind of hooked and want to run another one.  Stupid running, proving John right.)

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Fitness Foibles: Dry Fit MY ASS

Helpful fitness attire tip:

The “dry fit” shirts that get doled out to everyone who signs up for a road race are some cheaper, less-awesome version of the dry fit shirts you buy in an actual store.

If you receive such a piss-poor excuse for a dry fit shirt in a nice heather gray color, and you subsequently decide to show off about how you once registered for a road race by wearing said shirt to an early morning spinning class, you will emerge with a huge, dark, impossible to hide, basketball-sized wet patch on your STOMACH.  There will also be matching dark patches on your shoulders, back, and chest.  This will suggest to your fellow spinners that you have a  particularly sweaty belly, and perhaps that you are some freak of nature whose armpit sweat glands have migrated upwards to your shoulder region.  People will stare.

You will be sufficiently mortified that you will vow to stay away from spinning for a week or two at least.  So if you’re committed to maintaining some sort of exercise regimen, probably best to avoid these shirts at all costs.

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Fitness Foibles: Part 5 in an occasional series

For a long time, I was intimidated by group fitness classes.

I was not unathletic, exactly, but I am clumsy and kind of gangly.  My endurance was not great, my coordination was worse, and group exercise classes just seemed like an opportunity to embarrass myself and possibly cause injury to others.

But I WANTED to try group exercise classes.  Running on a treadmill and hamster-wheeling on an elliptical get really boring. The whole time you’re doing it, you’re thinking “when do I get to stop?”  That’s not a good recipe for sustaining a long-term commitment to exercise.

The thing that finally got me over the hump, actually, was exercise DVDs.  For several months, I let my gym membership languish while I worked my way through Turbo Jam, the infamous 30 Day Shred, and a bunch of the Biggest Loser DVDs.   Doing them in the privacy of my living room let me become familiar with the kinds of moves and routines that are used in group exercise classes, without the actual flailing around in public part.

So when my friend from work joined my gym, and asked me if I wanted to go to group classes together, I said yes.  Now, several months later, I have my favorite classes and favorite instructors, and I feel comfortable walking into just about any class the gym offers- even if I haven’t taken it before, I’m confident that I’ll be able to pick up most of it, and am unlikely to grievously injure anyone else.

But the point is: it took a while.  And I remember, very clearly, when I was too intimidated to go solo to a totally new class.  So today, in Muscle Max, when our instructor asked if anyone was brand new, and the woman in front of me raised her hand, I thought to myself “brave!”

As we went through the class, it became clear that the woman wasn’t familiar with a lot of the moves.  My biggest beef with the Muscle Max format, actually, is that too often the instructors don’t seem too concerned about proper technique, and just let you have at it.  (For a couple of exercises where it’s really easy to injure yourself, like French curls, they do some instruction on form, but even then they don’t really go around to check that people are doing it right.)

So this newbie in front of me was really struggling with stuff like deep lunges, and clean and press, and dead lifts- all exercises where it’s really easy to hurt yourself.  And that would suck- your first experience with a group exercise class and you tweak something because the instructor doesn’t really explain how to do it right?  That would be enough to convince me not to come back.

As class progressed, this woman just started skipping most of the exercises, halfheartedly doing the others, and eventually she packed up her stuff and left class early, which I guess was better than getting hurt, but it still sucked.  I was annoyed that the instructor didn’t really explain the moves, especially after she’d asked at the start of class if anyone was new.

It left me wondering: I’m hardly a fitness guru, but I’ve been going to this class regularly for about 6 months now, so I’m pretty familiar with all the exercises we do.  Should I have helped the new woman out?

I couldn’t decide if it would be helpful or just mortifying to her.  Back when I was still afraid of group exercise classes, I think I would have been horrified if someone in class had corrected my form, because it would have meant that not only was I doing it wrong, everyone was NOTICING that I was doing it wrong, and let’s face it- no one wants to think that people are looking at them when they’re working out.  We’d all rather just pretend that we’re in little private bubbles where no one can see our red faces, our butt sweat, or our awkward lunge stance.

So I didn’t say anything, but I still wonder if I should have.  What do you think?  If you saw someone doing a weightlifting exercise wrong- and not just aesthetically wrong, but wrong in a way that they could really hurt themselves- would you offer to help them correct their form?

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Fitness Foibles: Shuffle Shame edition

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’ve been training for an 8K.  The annual Shamrock Shuffle is a rite of spring in Chicago: it’s the opening of  running season, a big party, and chance to get outside after a long winter spent pounding out workouts on treadmills instead of sidewalks.

I signed up for the Shuffle with some friends from work, which I highly recommend if you’re the wimping-out sort: by signing up with casual co-worker friends, you will feel tremendous pressure not to bail.

If I’d signed up with really good, lifelong friends, my thinking might have gone something like this: “these people have seen me through thick and thin, they know I’m not athletic, they’ll understand and still love me if I end up walking the whole thing.  Maybe I should just volunteer to pass out Gatorade at the finish line or something.  They won’t mind.”

Since I signed up with work friends, however, my thinking went something like this: “Oh dear crap, I’ve signed up to run 5 miles with people who seem kind of sporty.  I’ve warned them that I am not FAST, per se, and they’ve assured me they aren’t either, but I have my doubts.  That one guy in particular seems like he’s probably fast and fit.  It will be hugely embarrassing if I end up having to let them go on without me because I can’t hack it.  I’d better get my ass in gear.”

So I followed a program and trained for the Shuffle and, lo and behold, I did not entirely hate it.  I still don’t get the “runner’s high” people talk about, but I can go out and run for 3 miles and feel like I’ve gotten a good workout, without wanting to die.  Victory!  I worked my way up to longer distances, I was confident I’d be able to finish the Shuffle without stopping to walk, and I was really looking forward to the race.

A week or so ago, one sporty guy work friend got last minute tickets to London for this week, so he bailed on the Shuffle.  Understandable.  Then, on Friday, other work friend said that she wasn’t going to run it either, because she wasn’t feeling well, and she had to travel for work this week and it didn’t seem wise to push it.

Hm.  Suddenly I was running the Shuffle alone.  Less than ideal.

I called up some old friends who I know are runner types and asked them if they were shuffling.  Success!  They were!  We made plans to meet up.

Sunday morning at 6:45, I got up to get ready.  I walked over to the bedroom window, looked outside, and saw: 4 inches of snow on the ground.


At that very moment, my cell phone pinged with a text message from my old friends, who said that they were hard core, but 4 inches of snow was a lot even for them, so they were bailing.

I took it as a sign, and climbed back in bed.

The Shuffle did go on:

How miserable does that look? I just couldn’t muster the will to go by myself to the park to wait for an hour for my group to start, then run through that, then go home on the el by myself.  There was only one way I could see that scenario ending and it was with me sick in bed after contracting a slush-induced fever.

But, see, I couldn’t just forget about it and go back to bed.  I’d already picked up my race day packet, which included a souvenir Dri-Fit tshirt.  I’m new to the world of Dri-Fit tshirts, but I bought my first one a few weeks ago and I am IN LOVE.  I want MORE, and I was really excited to start wearing my new Shamrock Shuffle Dri-Fit shirt, but I didn’t feel right about it because I hadn’t actually RUN the Shuffle.  (I am the same girl who did not play with her Christmas or birthday gifts until I’d written thank you notes.  I’m a little prissy about these things.)  I was also kind of pissed off: I’d trained hard for this thing, and I was proud of how far I’d come.

So yesterday afternoon, I laced up my sneakers, put on my sweats, and headed to the gym, where I ran the 8K (and a little more) on the treadmill.  I know it’s not as hard or authentic as running it on pavement, but it still felt like an accomplishment.  Now, the next time I head out for a run, I can put on my souvenir Shamrock Shuffle Dri-Fit shirt and only feel like a little bit of a fraud.

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