Learning to Love Muscle

On Monday morning, I asked my hubby to help me zip up my favorite dress. I exhaled as he pulled up the zipper and fastened the clasp. I took a deep breath in, and realized with a sinking feeling…despite dedicated training for almost 2 months, my dress didn’t fit.

In fact, it is the training that is the reason. I told my new trainer I wanted to be able to do a pull up, unassisted. That’s nothing to shake a stick at and certainly requires focusing on developing shoulder strength. Muscles are growing. Demanding space. Space that no longer fits in my favorite dress. 

The space that concerns me most, more than the dress really, is how much valuable real estate my disappointment takes up in my thoughts. I am more capable. I am stronger. I have round, muscled shoulders that allow me to complete any number of day to day activities with ease where previously I struggled. I am proud of my strength, but my brain is screaming failure.

It’s tough, that line between body image goals and athletic ability. Logically, I know the muscle I am building is what will get me to my goal of  doing that first, glorious pull-up. That’s a goal in counting on meeting, and it’s the only counting I’m trying to do. As someone who chased numbers to their detriment, I handed over all rep and weight counting to my trainer. For these past 8 weeks, it has been glorious to be able to let go of that worrisome obsession. It’s troublesome knowing that I’ve only diverted this worry to how I fit into my clothes. My trainer says focus on the sessions and the process. Right now, that’s what I’ve got. 

Focus on the training. Focus on doing the thing. Focus on my eyes popping up over that bar. Focus on loving the muscles that will get me there. 

The rest will come.

The (Re)Assessment Bureau

Bodies are amazing. We can ask our bodies to perform any number of tasks in the physical realm or we can quiet movement to spend time on a cerebral plain. The trouble starts when we ask and the body does not respond.

Certainly, my body is responding to my joyful return to running (the one foot in front of the other is working). I’m happily fitter than I was 4 weeks ago and already making plans to continue coaching if they will keep me. So, I was shocked this week when my body responded with a giant “nope”. This came in the inexplicable need to lay down. I don’t mean that facetiously; I literally needed to lay down, and for much longer than I thought I would need. Besides getting, cough cough, older, I really don’t have a great reason to come home from a normal work day and completely disengage by slipping into near coma status for a period of 2 hours. It was shocking in my body’s need for rest. It caused me to contact my partner in crime and ask her to take out our running group for the 8km because I knew that while I could push myself to do it, I shouldn’t. Furthermore, my husband’s response of  ‘good for you’ made me realize he has watched me in years past push myself too far and too hard. It made me feel like I had learned something; amazing what a marital pat on the back can do. It was simple acknowledgement that something inside me changed my outward behaviour. My response wasn’t to immediately pour over every detail of my running and food and force myself to run anyway, but to just take a breather and a long, overdue nap. It was to take the time my body needed instead of forcing my body do what my mind wanted. How novel!

For those of you reading who don’t have the express joy of having had a full on body-functioning-crash-that-flips-your-life-upside-down to learn from….read on! I have done the hard part for you and can say, with the utmost authority, this is a non-exclusive amateur list of questions and ramblings to ask yourself to see if you are on the right path:

  1. How far into your training are you? If you are in the first 3 weeks, it’s going to be rough. It will take the average beginner about those first agonizing 3 weeks of discomfort to get used to the activity. The more of a beginner you are in the activity (and no, ability in one area does not automatically make you good at the other) the greater the challenge. If you have a really good trainer / coach, the discomfort should return after every 4 weeks. (yeah, yeah, I know. You only get one week of feeling good…that’s how we get you!) If you are self-training, and things are difficult at first, but your body never gets challenged again, you have probably plateaued and need to increase intensity in some way. This is usually duration or distance of workout or type such as hill or tempo training for runners. Lo and behold, I am in the 5th week of my run coaching! Clue number one.
  2. What’s your water intake? Water is an important, in fact critical, piece of the recovery puzzle. Muscles that are dehydrated just won’t recover as well as their supple brethren. Without enough water, muscles become inflexible over time, and as you begin to make your body move in ways it hasn’t moved in before, you become prone to injury. Think about uncooked spaghetti (go with me here), it is brittle and inflexible. Add hot water and time, that noodle gets oodles of movement. On a supremely basic level, it’s the same thing for our muscles. There are many, many articles written on how much water the runner needs, but it is just safe to say that if you exist on AM coffees followed by PM coffees and finish off with post-run beer, you are probably dehydrated and want to start increasing your water intake. (I will not confirm nor deny that some, if not many, of my days has liquid intake close to what I have described.)
  3. What kind of food do you eat? And, by kind, I mean macros. Right. The stuff that food is made up with and serious athletes can obsess over. We are talking fat, carbohydrate, and protein. More to the point, we are thinking about ratios. If we all ate a diet that included 50% fat, we would start to expand in ways that might not be wanted. Right? But, I don’t want to get into what macro percentages are best because, honestly, it is different for everyone and every athletic goal that we might imagine. What you need in each sport can be very different in terms of the percentages and even in terms when you might be eating which of the percentages. However, if you are moderately active runner averaging 3-4 times a week, for a period between 30-60mins at a time, it might be time to consider what we are asking our bodies to do and if we are appropriately fueling. Yes. Adding fuel to the tank. Food is fuel when you start asking the body to do athletic things it wasn’t doing before. Knowing what to eat before running and what to avoid can be the difference between being hungry on a run or throwing your guts up on the side of the road (ps, I have experienced both.) The best way to know what to have is to invest some time in reading things written by people who are doing the same activity as you, and then testing things out. That is the cheap and time consuming (pun intended) option. You will read a variety of food trends and food choices and how they impacted a particular person’s ability to perform. This does not make them right. If I was to say that I am a vegan (which I am) and that you should all be vegan runners, you might think that was extreme on my part, and you would be right. So, be very, very, careful about what people are telling you because often, they are not telling they are selling. No one product will make the difference for everyone. We are too unique and complex to buy into a processed food item that will become the reason we will increase our athletic ability or lose weight or be more awesome. Don’t buy into that unless you really want to and you feel your research has validated what is being sold. But, I digress. The quick and not so cheap way is to pay someone to figure out your macros for you. Your decision to go either route depends on your goals and how determined you are to meet them. Self research will carry you along…to a point. When your body stops improving, and you are at the end of your knowledge to reach the final step(s) of your goal and you want to be at the top of your game, whatever that game might be, you need to consult an expert. It’s that simple.

On the most basic level, when training, and the body reacts in an unanticipated way, it is time to reassess. For me, this means looking at what I have done so far and what I hope to achieve in the coming weeks. Those three items help me do that. I sit and think where have I done what was necessary and where can I improve. Heading back into the classroom over the past two weeks have placed time and energy demands on top of my running schedule. Assessing what I have done in the past few weeks to end up needing  copious naps brings a realization, cough cough, admission that I need to reassess. For example, I consciously slept in last Friday and then tried to exist on two pre-packaged protein bars before being able to leave work and get food. I was desperately hungry. My body was in panic mode.

While last Friday isn’t the norm but the anomaly, it indicates how precarious my planning happens to be. Hitting the snooze button shouldn’t throw off an entire day. Further, it shows that maybe the plan isn’t that great and that while my desire to avoid obsessing over the food part is healthy for my mindset and emotional well-being, it isn’t smart for my body. There is a balance to be struck which I haven’t really found it in the past. Yet, avoiding exploring how to train and meet my athletic goals for fear of slipping back into a eating disorder isn’t what I want either. It’s simply not smart and it devalues how far I have come. I know better. I love being a coach, I am tied to my group, and I really want to be supportive of my group’s goals without being detrimental to my own. So, I think I’m going to do that.

#TBT

Sometimes looking backwards is looking forwards.

It’s weird how that can happen. I realize this as I spent much of this morning pouring over old sketch books and looking at art class notes from over 10 years ago. Each of these books have sat, ignored, for enough time that looking at them provoked quite a bit of nostalgia on my part. This term, I enrolled in an illustration class for no better reason than I want to devote time to the arts. Every so often, I crave the ability to learn something new and usually, that new thing is of an artsy crafty type. I took art classes to fulfil part of my degree electives side-stepping other, suggested courses, have attended drawing classes and this fall I wanted to take a natural dye class at the Anna Templeton Centre. It seems that artistic pursuits pop up again and again in my life even though I haven’t really set myself about being more ‘artistically organized’ (have I broken some art covenant by typing that?).

I think the grander goal is to work towards a textiles / fabric based program. I’m an educator who just can’t settle on being finished school or seeing what I have done as the end. Where does the illustration class fit in? Well, right now the textile classes don’t fit my schedule. But, the illustration class is on campus AND is not just for interest but maybe a method of me being able to translate the crazy ideas in my head into actual patterns that I can print on fabric! OR I could design my own knitting patterns! OR I could learn to make images and print them on shirts and canvas bags and tea towels and ALL THE FABRIC! You can see how this gets out of control. Luckily, I have no particular timeline and can dabble here and there in the courses. The goal is to finish Illustration I this term and II (clearly) next term.

So, while the main focus of this blog is running (I have to head out after this post and complete a hill training session!), know that every once and awhile, there is something artsy going to pop up. Who knows? Maybe I will share a picture of my homework 😉

Mending Fences

In my mind, ten years ago when running was to become a regular part of my life, running was what really fit people did for fun (HA!) and because they could, and we lesser people (this included me) had to sit on the sidelines and watch. Not the greatest description of running but it was where my brain lived for a bit. I’m not entirely sure why these thoughts are tumbling through my head today and making it terribly difficult to think of anything else, but hey, I’m going with it. And while I’m at this, I seem to be thinking about a time when running wasn’t really the healthiest part of my life. How I started running and why I started running doesn’t seem to be a new topic to share. But. Here I am. Thinking about the runner who framed much of the first few years of my run training. Who was that person? A multiple Boston finisher and a damned fine runner. He was a coworker at a small town college here in Newfoundland. I worked with this guy for a year and gleaned many a running tip from him, some of which I still profess to my running groups. What a year that was. A fateful year, as it were, because that was the year I was both at my most insecure and at the cusp of falling in love with running.

See, I was getting married in a few months and I wanted to look good in my dress. Ah, the dress. Doesn’t that dress make use do some silly things? Well, I was more worried about the pictures of me in my dress, but that’s besides the point. Somehow I got it in my mind that running was the best way to lose weight. I wanted that sleek body runners in magazines had. I had started ‘running’ off and on throughout the previous year. I had some small successes (aka. I actually ran). But, it was the Boston finisher (who was all compact and sinewy) who had a rigorous training schedule that helped me see running as something different. You could train on a schedule to get predictable results. Whoa. Hold on. I could predict what the outcome would be if I did xyz?! He had a lean body, strong legs and bright eyes. I wanted that. That would look good in wedding photos, well, the female version. And, even though I am a curvy lady, I was happy to believe that running would lengthen my body in ways nature never intended. I started a training schedule and I set my sights on sleek and tight and looking good in my dress. Off I went with a training schedule that looked like it fit what I was looking for. (Side note, I had no good reason for picking the training plan I picked and am super lucky I didn’t really hurt myself; consult experienced people before picking up running, folks!). I followed the training plan like it was gospel and I adopted a strength training schedule too. Know what? I lost weight. I was proud of myself. I looked great in my dress and I thought, dangerously, I can do better. Why dangerous, you ask? What I didn’t realize was that I would spend the next few years caught in a guilt-love relationship with exercise where I replaced binge eating with binge exercising. I read recently that extremes are easy, balance is hard. I’d like to punch that person in the face. Extremes are not easy. Extremes are scary.

But, here I am. 10 years later and still a runner. I have different reasons for running now. Close friends still worry that I will slip into old habits (I love you girlie, but I think I’m ok xx). I know things about running that I didn’t know before. Running is hard. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to say that it is joyous and freeing and empowering and some other hipster fitness (fitspo) speak. But, know what? It is hard. I’ve been running for 10 years and it is just plain hard work. Waking up at 6:30 on a Sunday to run with a group of people is hard. Getting in the kms on a Tuesday evening and then being silly tired at your favourite blues night downtown–hard. Dealing with sneaky injuries and setbacks, you guessed it, hard. The hardest of all might be the point where you realize running will not change the structure of your body and give you what you think you want. At least that realization came for me. I am still curvy: muscular legs, some junk in the trunk, and a smaller waist. ‘Sleek’ is not a word to describe me. Letting go of that idea was maybe the hardest of all because I had to accept and love the body that I am in rather than wish to live in someone else’s body. And, yes. I thought that for a long time. I would piece together the bodies of other women, choosing a set of legs from that women, flat tummy from another, and on and on until I made a frankenstein body to plop my head on top of (of course, that body was a happy, confident body). For those of us that know the pain of disordered eating and body image, I think struggling with insecurity and body shaming is always present…just tucked away in a corner of your mind. For most of the time, they stay dormant. Stress, fear, feeling out of control, these emotions bring back the need to take control in any way possible. I know my warning signs.

What may have prompted this particular ramble is that I have heard people in my running groups who have similar notions in their mind on what running can give them. Yes. Running will take care of extra pounds. Run enough and you will lose weight; it’s fairly simple. But no amount of running will change a body into something it isn’t. Even more concerning is when I see and hear behaviour in my running groups that is along the vein of what I went through in my early days of healing my eating disorder (side note: I have coached about 10 groups over the past 3 years and I am not necessarily speaking about a current group). I want to reach out. I want to say that I know what it feels like. I feel a certain sadness for the me that wanted to be anyone else and seeing that in someone else’s eyes is horrible. I want to tell them that it gets better. That somehow, even though running started out as another manifestation of control issues born of an eating disorder for me, it became a method of healing. I want to tell them that there’s an honesty in running; a forced acceptance of what your body can and cannot do. That if you stick with it, the run will become a place of solace instead of a place to feed anxiety. I want to say that the physical results may never come but that you what you will gain for your spirit is worth more. I want to say that each step might have started out with desperation to become someone else, yet my mind and body began to really jive and for the first time in my life, I *lived* in my body and maybe someday you will live in yours too.

Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’ has a line in it that has always stuck in my mind “good fences make good neighbours”. I’ve struggled to make my body and my mind good neighbours most of my life, and over the years and certainly since returning to regularly scheduled training I’ve spent some time mending fences. I have put my body image and control issues in a place where they belong. I’m no longer running to chase the sleek body in the magazines, rather, I run to reduce stress, to feel the power in my legs push me forward, to share a casual conversation with a running buddy. I have built a fence around my insecurities, not to forget them or lock them away, but to acknowledge that they have a place in my life as part of a bigger narrative. My story does not end that way. I can see them over the fence and only by choice, I can slowly walk through the experiences that caused them when I feel secure and strong and able to deal with the crap, but they do not spill out into every aspect of my life anymore. I’ve got a good fence, you see.

So, while I run with my group, I share my experiences openly. I talk body issues without shame and without judgement and with an attempt at humour that may border on self-deprecating but is at the heart of it good natured. I tell stories about my first training plans and how I was inspired by a Boston finisher. I share pieces of my narrative with those people I think might need to know they are not in it alone. I make my shared running time a space to be honest about what we run for and why we push ourselves. I listen. I encourage. And, ultimately, I help myself and others continue to mend fences to make good neighbours of mind and body.

The Place Between

Gearing up to return to regularly scheduled training is, well, frightening. Not in the ‘I can’t do that’ kind of way, but in the ‘I won’t be able to do *this* anymore’ kind of way. Training, at least a serious commitment to, requires dedication. Furthermore, it often comes with a side of early to beds and no thanks, I’ll skip that. Already I know that eating well, making sure I get enough water, and going to bed early today will make tomorrow morning’s group run (YAY!) so much easier. None of those things really jive with the fabulous week of shows I’ve just attended. I love my go out nights, but I think it is time to start being a bit more choosey with my time.

Not to get too involved (hey, my return to this is a happy choice!), but it does require a tad more time and routine care. Ultimately, there is a question of what makes it easier to propel the body through a run other than dedication and simply showing up: water, whole foods, and rest. It is a simple equation. Input the good for you and get the most out of that body of yours. However, this is such a hard thing to make a habit. It is so easy to have a few drinks and eat late at night (um, check last night’s Insta feed). And, I saw this all the time while training people. Clients or runners would show up tired, hungry, hungover (yeah, that happens!) and I would almost feel like saying why? Why are you here? Why are you wasting your training session/money? Yet deep down, I knew their commitment to themselves was developing and I had a part to play in helping them get there. Pushing them to find the best in themselves and seeing them develop healthier lifestyles was rewarding. It came down to asking for the best someone could give at that moment and accepting what they offered; I often got more out of them that way.

In a way, I think we can all do this for ourselves. Accept where we are wholly and give ourself a place to stand. Our current state (whatever that happens to be) provides comfort of some sort or we wouldn’t be there. It serves some need that we have. We like it because it is known. We know how to be there. We recognize the locals and accept the culture. We are safe. But, once we push outside that barrier we put up defining the line between what we can and cannot do, we see the other side of possibilities. And man, that ground looks pretty cool, but, hey, we don’t know the language, we don’t know the steps, and it is just too damn safe over here. It takes quite a bit to jump. In these moments, the questions come rampant: should I? could I? Yet, once that leap is made and our feet land on something and we wobble and sway to regain our confidence…wow…we find out so much more about ourselves in the place between where we are and where we want to go.

So it is a return to early nights, and early rising. A return to a glass of water rather than a glass of wine (well, sometimes wine!). And ultimately, a leap onto once familiar ground to find that place where I will discover just how far this runner really wants to go.

Running Full Circle: A side note

Well. Plenty can change when you open the floodgates. I mentioned earlier that it was likely that I would be returning to familiar grounds with coaching…and, now I am starting up again on Sunday with a 10K group. You would think the concept of getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning to head out into the dubious weather of St. John’s with a group of strangers would be crazy. Yeah, not here! I feel rather rejuvenated and my runner’s heart is beating just a little bit harder (wheeeeee!). I’m excited about getting back into the groove of regular training. And, coaching. And, sprints. And, hill training. Oh my! How I miss helping people push themselves to explore what they can achieve.

Yeah, I’m a dork.

Well this dork has come full circle. Maybe it is long overdue to shake off the scaredy-pants mentality and really embrace that feeling that my body is capable of more. Maybe my 1/2 marathons and dandy race days are not over. Maybe this little body of mine has a few more kilometres in her yet. Let’s find out.

When it Clicks

It was somewhere between the opening ‘hug your neighbour’ and closing group savasana of last night’s epic, Signal Hill yoga class that something clicked. I moved in time with 200+ yogis of various levels of practice with confidence and good humour. I say good humour simply because the joy of yoga is really accepting where your body is on that given day rather than asking it to continuously give. What clicked?, you ask. Well, sitting in the open, sea air with a group of similarly-minded peeps was…amazing. The air was *buzzing*. People were happy. They each took the time for themselves to practice the joy of moving the body. Ahhhhhhhhhh.

It wasn’t just that feeling we all shared. It was letting go of the constant, hesitant voice in the back of my head that questions are you ready to do this? are you here yet? isn’t this too hard? That voice has chased me for months; nipping at my heels. And know what? My body had all the answers. I moved in time with the poses, accepted where I was, and expressed the movements with certainty and confidence. All those days of yoga were working on healing my body even while my mind railed against the ease of it. (Yeah, I’m that person. Yoga is easy and therefore not a workout. Jerk). Errant thoughts aside, my body moved and twisted and held poses regardless of what that mean old brain of mine came up with. My body reminded me that it has been there waiting for me all along and in the magic of twilight, mind and body clicked.

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I think this is similar to what I have been experiencing with my return to running. I ran two, 4km runs last week and felt strong. I definitely pushed myself enough, but was conscious of my speed and my distance. While I had little to no muscle pains in the following days, I did struggle a bit with my breathing (insert: sucked air, loudly and obnoxiously the entire way!). But, again, my body just seemed to be there…waiting for me to take it out and give it a go.

So, now, that leaves me with another week stretching out ahead of me, all full of opportunity and whatnot. I’m keeping my daily yoga practice in the 30-40min range and really working on different expressions of poses. Working on alignment is a good place to be, I think. I recall my complete and total devotion to bakasana (crow pose) in August 2013 whereby I worked on the pose every single day. This time, I’m going to look for the strength in variety. The meditation on that alone will be good for both my ego and strong desire to control all of the outcomes. To add to my week, I have spoken with my former Running Room boss (Scott, if you ever read this “You’re not the boss of me!!”) and he graciously offered to give me another coaching group. The grin bubbled out of me when I heard that and I suddenly became the biggest, goofiest person in the room. I blushed and everything. It went a little over the top when he said that they’ve missed me. Truly, I almost cried. There’s a strong temptation to jump on a certain bandwagon and to say that things are lining up for me, but I think it is more the case of me being in the right mindset and more willing to take the opportunities given. That darn yoga creeping in and making me all relaxed and stuff. With yoga a given and running about to become a bit more permanent, there is only one thing left to think about: FOOD.

Ah yea. Food. Damn that stuff is good. As a vegan, people often comment to me that I must feel so deprived. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I LOVE fruit and vegetables and legumes and whole grains and bread and nachos and sausages and pizza and chips and …wait. What just happened? Jokes about the downward spiral into a bag of Lays aside, I keep a pretty constant stream of healthful foods on my Instagram and 80% of the time, that’s all I eat. But, man. Don’t I love a good chip. Or French fries. So. Good. And while I am not someone to limit myself from tasting the yummy rainbow of food that is out there, I often am pretty flip about what quality of food I am eating. I admit to thinking that if I eat reaaaaaallllllllly ‘good’ I can have whatever the heck I want even if it almost an entire bag of organic tortilla chips (this may or may not have happened post-yogic bliss last night). The ‘good vs bad’ food mentality is just dangerous for those like me who have struggled with ED. Instead, I am going to focus on taste and nutrient quality to fulfil my desire for yumminess and my need to fuel the activities I enjoy.

In that vein, I made myself a slimmer Matcha-Mint smoothie this morning and, after taking a look at what my CSA, Seed to Spoon, organic fruit basket from Real Food Market, and pantry had to offer, I decided to make up this lovely and filling lunch. I don’t really have a name for it, and have never posted a personal recipe before, but here it is. Hope you enjoy!

Mango-Lime Quinoa Black Bean Salad (2 servings)

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Dressing:

juice of 1 lime, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 Tbsp oil of choice (I used Udo’s Oil 3-6-9), 1/4 tsp sea salt, 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (don’t skip!!)

Salad:

1 can of black beans, rinsed; 1 cup of cooked quinoa; 1/2 a mango, chopped; 1/2 – 1 jalapeño chopped in small dice, avoiding the seeds

Method:

Cook quinoa. I use a rice cooker; it’s fast and easy to clean up. Chop cilantro and whisk into the rest of the dressing ingredients and let sit. Chop mango (save the other half for a smoothie!) into ‘bean sized’ pieces; it will just mix better. Dice jalapeño using all of the pepper or just half; it really depends on how hot you want it. Open can of beans and rinse well. Dump beans into a medium sized bowl and toss in dressing to coat. I find the quinoa will immediately soak up the dressing, so it’s best to add it AFTER beans meet the sauce. Add quinoa (I added hot quinoa because I am impatient, so it is totally okay to follow suit!) and enjoy 🙂