Posts Tagged With: exercise

Why I Love Running

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d proclaim the reasons I’ve fallen head over heels for running.

(I better love it, seeing as how ONE WEEK FROM TODAY, I will be headed down to Walt Disney World to take on my very first half marathon!)

1.) The way I feel when I’m done. Sure, sure, the running part is great and all, but whether I’ve gone out for a 2-mile run or a 12-mile run, there are no words to express the way I feel when it’s over. Call it runner’s high, call it endorphins, call it whatever you want, but I am addicted! I never feel more confident than when I can spend some time in my running duds and come home all sweaty and tired and sore and…proud.

2013-02-06 13.59.372.) The new relationship with food. It’s no secret that I used to have a serious weight problem; I spent most of my life struggling with obesity, and trying every trick in the book to gain control over my unhealthy eating habits, from fad diets to good old-fashioned starvation. Now that I’m a runner, I am forced to see food for what it truly is: fuel. Gone are the days when I obsess over every carbohydrate or scour the supermarket for the latest and greatest in fat-free snacks; I understand now that my body needs carbs and fats and all of these other nutrients — in moderation — to perform at its best.

3.) The sense of accomplishment. There is little in life that makes me as proud as the moment when I cross the finish line of a race, or when I head out for a 10- or 12-mile run and actually finish. It doesn’t matter whether I PRed or struggled through every mile — I get to constantly experience the joy that comes from setting a goal and seeing it through every time I sign up for a race or take on a new distance. There’s nothing like proving to myself over and over again that I CAN do this.

4.) The community. It has been so rewarding to communicate with, and learn from, fellow runners, who are always so willing to share their tips and encouragement. Coming in from a bad run to see that I have a new supportive comment on my blog or an encouraging tweet from another runner helps more than I could have ever imagined. It’s so much fun getting to share my new obsession!

5.) The stress relief. I’m definitely not known to be a relaxed, carefree person — I’m pretty much the exact definition of someone with a Type A personality, and have always tended to be just a tad high-strung. But not when I’m running. Lacing up my sneakers and going out for a run is a time for me to unwind, decompress, and maybe even work through the problems of the day in a calm, rational way as I’m traversing my usual running routes. Don’t get me wrong, running can certainly be physically exhausting, but it really can help soothe the mind. Even my mind.

6.) The body acceptance. Thanks to my lifelong weight struggles, I’ve always been pretty hard on myself about my body (read: I’ve loathed it with a passion). Even after my weight loss, I focused on imperfections like residual stretch marks or loose skin instead of seeing what was right there in front of me: a strong, healthy body. Running makes you appreciate everything your body is capable of achieving, and it has helped me develop an acceptance for what I have — and for that, I am eternally grateful. I’m not saying I have the perfect body, or that I ever will, but I’ve finally been able to break the cycle of striving to be “skinny” — instead, I focus on being the strongest, fittest (and, yes, even fastest!) runner I can be.

7.) The empowerment. I don’t think I need to say that running is HARD. WORK. But proving to myself that, yes, I could run a 10K, or yes, I could make it to double-digits in my long runs, makes me feel as though I could accomplish ANYTHING. Because running can be so physically grueling, and because it is a physical activity that was never, ever possible for me — someone who has always been obese — conquering my fear of taking on new distances and proving to myself every single day exactly what I am capable of achieving when I set my mind to it is incredibly, unbelievably empowering. I was the girl who couldn’t run the mile in gym class in high school, who was pointed at and laughed at for huffing and puffing my way around the outdoor track four times and still finishing last. And today…I am training for a half marathon.

8.) The travel. Of course, I had to mention this one! I can see now that running just pairs so nicely with my desire to travel and go places and experience new things. I am beyond thrilled to be able to combine my love of running with my love of, oh, I don’t know, say Disney World, and am excited to participate in races and meet other runners from other other parts of the country (and, no, I don’t just mean my upcoming trip to Disneyland for the Dumbo Double Dare).  My running journey has been nothing but exciting and fulfilling, and I look forward to where it might take me next!

Your turn. What do YOU love about running?

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13.1 Lessons I’ve Learned While Training for My First 13.1

Yesterday, I braved the snow and ice (thanks a lot, Nemo!) and went out for my last long run before the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I planned to take on 12 miles — my longest run to date. Though the packed down snow and icy patches along my usual route slowed me down a bit, I am happy to announce that I finished all 12 miles…and, most importantly, that I felt pretty damn good!

A segment of yesterday's running route!

A segment of yesterday’s running route!

I know that many half marathon training plans only go up to 10 miles, but I wanted to see if I could push myself just a bit further. I needed to prove to myself that I CAN take on this distance…and I’m figuring the adrenaline and the excitement of seeing that finish line will carry me through the final 1.1 miles on race day!

As I was making my way through yesterday’s wintry wonderland, I did a lot of thinking. Knowing that it was my last long run after months and months of training (I’ve been working on building up my base since LAST AUGUST!), I couldn’t help but feel a little bit nostalgic about my running journey thus far. I have a feeling that there will be many more half marathons in my future, but because this is my first — and, let’s face it, because it’s taking place at Walt Disney World — I know it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Last summer, my idea of “running” was heading out for slow 2-3 mile jog a few times a week at the park near my apartment. It was just something I did to exercise when I had the time. At that point, I had also completed a few 5Ks and 4-milers “just for fun.” Yet despite my inexperience, for some reason, I felt compelled to go ahead and sign up for a half marathon.

The thought of running a half marathon — especially a RunDisney event — had crossed my mind several times in the past, but it was never something I thought I could actually accomplish. Those events, after all, were for “real” runners.

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Longest run ever: 12 miles!

I had no idea then just how much clicking that “register” button was going to change my life, and as I tackled yesterday’s scheduled 12 miles, I found myself thinking about all of the things I’ve learned along my journey to my first half marathon. And, what a coincidence, there are 13.1 of ’em!

1.) Running is hard. I figured I’d start with the obvious. Six months ago, I saw running as little more than a cardio activity…you know, something you did to burn some calories and maybe even drop a few pounds. I had no idea how much jargon there was to learn (fartleks, anyone?) or the experimentation necessary to find the right sneakers or pre-race fuel or what it would take to complete a structured training plan of runs over the course of a few months. The act of running is pretty straightforward, I suppose — one foot in front of the other — but there is NOTHING easy about it.

2.) Runners are among the most supportive people — ever! As I’ve become more active on social media sites like Twitter, and even running-specific sites like Daily Mile, I have found nothing but support from fellow runners. Whether I’m chatting with people at races or sharing tips on-line, there’s definitely a “we’re all in this together” kind of mentality that comes from the shared experience of running. I’m so grateful for all the runners who have offered guidance, support, and that much-needed bit of encouragement along the way!

12m_3

Feeling good!

3.) Running is as much mental as it is physical. When I started getting serious about improving, I found that runners and running magazines and running websites and running books and all of the various sources of information I started studying seemed to allude to this fact. To be honest, I never believed it…until now. I’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like to have your body quit on you, whether it’s during a 10-mile training run or a local 5K. Even when my legs feel like lead and I want nothing more than to take a nap on the side of the road, somehow, your mind takes over…and you just get through it. It’s that same mental toughness that has gotten me out the door to squeeze in an early morning run, run a race on a 85-degree day, or perhaps even tackle a 12-miler in the aftermath of a blizzard!

4.) Running is completely, utterly addicting. I used to see runners on the side of the road at 6am on a frigid winter morning or a blistering hot summer afternoon and wonder what the hell they were thinking. Now I know. The runner’s high is oh-so-very real, and I need it. All the time. If I’m sick or injured or am unable to run for any length of time — even just a few days — I can’t even describe the torture! I feel as though my life revolves around running now…when I’m not actually pounding the pavement, I’m registering for my next race or researching new workouts or reading magazines like Runner’s World. I know running can be tough on the body, but as someone who used to be addicted to food, I’d say this is a much healthier alternative!

5.) There are countless ways to get injured.  I’m not stupid or anything…I knew running wasn’t exactly akin to yoga or taking a spin on a stationary bike, but I had no idea just how hard day after day of running 4 or 6 or 8 or 10+ miles was going to be on my body. I’ve become accustomed to being sore pretty much all the time, and I’m lucky in that I’ve suffered only minor injuries throughout my half marathon training. But the fear of knowing that I can injure myself enough to take me out of the game, so to speak, at any given moment is pretty damn terrifying. It’s just so easy to suffer a stress fracture or develop tendinitis or pull a hamstring, and that sort of leads me to my next lesson learned…

6.) You learn to appreciate your body and everything it can do. It’s no secret that I’ve always pretty much hated my body. A lifetime of being 30 or 50 or 100 pounds overweight at any given time and being called oh-so-flattering nicknames like “thunder thighs” throughout your elementary, middle, and high school years can do that to you. I may be a comfortable size 8/10 now, but my body is far from perfect — the years of yo-yo dieting have certainly taken their toll. But since I’ve started running, I can honestly say that I have completely stopped obsessing over my body’s imperfections. When you start proving to yourself on a daily basis just how strong you are, or how fast you can be, suddenly a little loose skin just doesn’t seem so important anymore. My legs are definitely larger than the average person’s, but you know what? Those legs have carried me through 10K races and 10-mile runs. I am truly ashamed of myself for poisoning my body with food and inactivity for so many years, and taking my health for granted…now that I’m a runner, I do everything in my power to take care of what I have and I fully appreciate just how far these “thunder thighs” have taken me.

7.) The right fuel makes all the difference. As a formerly obese person, my life pretty much used to revolve around eating…and even after my weight loss, I continued to battle with my unhealthy relationship with food. But then you start training for an endurance event like a half marathon, and suddenly, every morsel that passes my lips is evaluated for the way in which it will affect my running. I know exactly which healthy foods will help power me through my next run, and I’ve had to impose all sorts of rules on myself when it comes to racing or preparing for longer runs. Not to mention I had no idea just how difficult it was going to be to find the long run fuel that worked for my apparently sensitive stomach, and would help keep me going for miles and miles (the winner: Clif Shot Bloks!) Running has finally helped me learn to look at food for what it really is — fuel — and for that reason alone, I will continue to lace up my sneakers.

8.) You need more than sneakers. Don’t get me wrong, finding the right pair of footwear is CRITICAL, but I used to think that running was among the more inexpensive activities to get hooked on — especially if you compare it to something like my martial arts classes (not cheap!). If only I had known then the endless amounts of gear that would become essential to my running life, from fuel belts to GPS watches to BondiBands! And then, of course, there’s the wardrobe — my running attire now far outnumbers my “regular” clothing, and I have a full array of sweat-wicking clothing and accessories for every single weather contingency…and, I’ll admit it, in every color and pattern. Nothing wrong with looking cute while you run!

9.) Bad runs happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. When I was getting started, I’d constantly battle the urge to throw in the towel after struggling to complete what was supposed to be an “easy” 3-mile training run. I still marvel at the fact that there are days when I take on 7 miles with seemingly little effort, and others when 4 miles feels more like 400 miles. There are so many factors that will affect your performance, from the weather to your level of hydration to what you ate for dinner the night before to what color nail polish you’re wearing (okay, I’m exaggerating), but the bottom line is that no matter how well-trained you are, sometimes you’re just going to have a bad run. And there’s no use in beating yourself up over it.

10.) Runners come in all shapes and sizes. I used to be completely convinced that I could never be a “runner” because I don’t have the typical “runner’s body.” I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I told myself I was too “fat” to run. But when I started participating in races, I looked around and saw people of all shapes and sizes lining up at the starting line…and now I kind of like to think of myself as proof that you definitely do not have to be “skinny” to run! I’ve learned that with proper training, anyone can learn how to improve, regardless of your size…if I can do it, anyone can!

11.) Discipline is EVERYTHING. When it comes to running, I’ve found that there is nothing more important than discipline. Runners succeed because they force themselves out of bed to squeeze in a 4am training run before work, or consistently choose the right foods and get ample sleep because they know it boosts their performance. Once I started disciplining myself to follow a consistent training plan and educate myself on proper nutrition to fuel my new activity, everything changed…suddenly, I could run faster, and felt so much better while doing so. You cannot train for a half marathon or a marathon or a triathlon or any kind of endurance event without having discipline, period.

12.) You can only compete against yourself. I know there are elite athletes, but of course, most of us will never be one of those runners. I spent so much time being intimidated by other runners and the fear of being “too slow” to participate in a race with those who can run a 6 or 7 minute-per-mile pace that it took me this long to figure out that running is a sport where you really only have to worry about yourself. Every race is an opportunity to set your own PR or put your own training to the test or challenge yourself in a new way, and you don’t have to be concerned with what everyone else is doing. You worry about running your own race, and that’s it.

And finally, lesson number 13.1 (sorry, just trying to be cute) I’ve learned while training for my first half marathon:

impossible13.1.) There is nothing — NOTHING — like crossing a finish line. It doesn’t matter how many 5Ks I have under my belt, or the fact that the 10K distance no longer terrifies me…crossing the finish line of a race is an indescribable feeling. When I’ve found myself struggling during a training run, all I have to do is imagine the moment when I cross the finish line of my first half marathon to keep me going. Running is fun and all, but for me, every time I finish a race — regardless of the distance involved — it is proof positive that I am doing something that I never thought I could do. It is the ultimate metaphor for setting a goal and the pride that comes to seeing it through to the very end.

For me, running is kind of like achieving the impossible every single day. And maybe that’s why running my first half marathon at Walt Disney World is just so meaningful to me.

What were some of the things you learned while training for your first half (or full!) marathon?

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Race Recap: NYCRUNS Riverside Park Hot Chocolate 10K

I’m down to the final three weeks of training before the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and I convinced myself that it would be a great idea to run one last 10K. I basically had four good reasons:hotchocolate10k

1.) I haven’t run a 10K since last November, nor competed in a race in 2013 yet…and it just seemed like something I should do before taking on 13.1 miles later this month.

2.) I wasn’t particularly thrilled with either of my previous 10K times (59:18 and 59:15) because both races were run in unseasonably high temperatures — almost 80 degrees in NOVEMBER! — and on ridiculously hilly courses. I was pretty sure I could do better (spoiler alert: I DID!).

3.) I forgot to submit a time for corral placement for the half marathon, so I thought I’d give myself one more chance to ensure an earlier placement when I bring proof of time to the expo.

hotchocolate10k_24.) And the most important reason of all: I, ladies and gentlemen, am starting to PANIC about this half marathon. Like, really panic. So I thought it would be good to get all of the “race day” practice I can get…even if a 10K is still, technically, less than half of a half.

Of course, I scoured all of my favorite running websites for local 10Ks taking place in New Jersey in the final weeks before I head to Disney World, and found absolutely nothing except a handful of 5Ks. So I decided to consider running my first out-of-state race (granted, it’s only a 40-minute train ride, but still!) and ended up in New York City on this past BRUTALLY COLD Saturday morning for the NYCRUNS Riverside Park Hot Chocolate 10K. Seriously, it was frigid, and I was convinced that I’d have to be taken to the nearest hospital to be treated for hypothermia before I even crossed the starting line. (A special thanks to my boyfriend for jumping on a 6am train and freezing to death on a park bench just to see me cross the finish line…and take lots of pretty pictures!)

hotchocolate10k_5But then the race began and I found myself warming up, as always — and maintaining a respectable 9ish/mile pace. Most surprisingly, despite the fact that the park — which offered some FABULOUS views of the Hudson and my great state of New Jersey — contained lots of lovely hills to climb, and I was struggling with a droopy waist on my running tights and various cold-weather running issues (can someone please tell me: IS there a socially acceptable way to wipe the snot from your nose?), I couldn’t help but admit to myself that I felt pretty damn fantastic.

And I continued to feel fantastic for the entire duration of the race. I could have done without some of the hills, but overall, I was maintaining my target race pace, enjoying the views, and best of all, actually having fun. The hot chocolate awaiting the runners at the finish line was a much appreciated bonus, too!

I love running, but since I’ve been in half marathon training mode for months and months there are definitely days when it feels more like a chore…and those off days when I find myself winded halfway through an “easy” three-miler can make me question why I even bother.

But Saturday was not one of those days. As I flew through the final miles of the race, still feeling strong and without any need to stop (well, taking a moment to blow my nose might have been nice), I found myself thinking that I might just be able to do this. You know, run a half marathon.

Ihotchocolate10k_4 thought about the idea of running two 10Ks back-to-back, and for the first time didn’t shudder in fear. Don’t get me wrong — running a 10K is hard work, and I am definitely tired and sore (and hungry!) afterwards…but it’s now something that’s completely within my realm of possibility. I’m not afraid anymore.

Oh, and the icing on top of it all? I CRUSHED my previous 10K time from November (59:15) by three full minutes! My official chip time from this weekend’s race was 56:17, for a pace of 9:05/mile.

Regardless of what corral I end up in for the half marathon, I’m so proud to be able to submit my shiny new 10K PR. There’s nothing like seeing the fruits of your labor…and I never knew how exciting a measly three minutes could be!

hotchocolate10K_7Even though I haven’t been perfectly following my Cool Running half marathon training plan — I definitely don’t do speedwork consistently enough, and I always have to rearrange the mileage a bit based on my martial arts classes — I think it might just be working. Not only because I no longer have to stop to “tie my shoes” (read: catch my breath and combat the urge to drop dead on the side of the course) during races, but more importantly, because I’m no longer intimidated by other runners.

Granted, I’m typically the only one racing in a Sparkle Skirt — just because it’s fun! — and I know I won’t be taking first place anytime ever, but I’m finally starting to feel like I BELONG at that start line. I deserve to be there just as much as anyone else — including those people who finish a 10K in the amount of time it takes me to run a 5K! — because I am a “real” runner now.

And in just 20 days, I will be a half marathoner!

When did you start officially thinking of yourself as a a “real” runner?

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Small Successes = Big Results

First, I need to just announce that exactly one month from today, I will be arriving at the Walt Disney World resort for the Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend [insert sheer panic here].

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Finally an orange belt!

This weekend I completed what might be, to many people, pretty small successes. On Friday I finally graduated to orange belt in Taekwondo. Because I can’t attend as many classes as I would like each week due to my work schedule (I moonlight as a private piano teacher, so I’m usually tied up until 7pm or 8pm each night), it takes me a bit longer to earn the necessary stripes to be considered for my next belt level — and it seems like I’ve been at white forever!

Although it was slightly awkward that all of my “grown-up” friends who are enrolled in the program graduated ahead of me, and I therefore was the ONLY adult participating in Friday night’s ceremony, to me earning a new belt in either of my martial arts programs is still very much a symbol of setting a goal and following through — a concept that was completely foreign to me just a few years ago.

At the end of the day, it’s basically just a colorful cotton belt and a silly little graduation ceremony, but for me it’s a reminder of what can happen when you summon the courage to try something new. While Muay Thai is physically taxing — I pretty much always end up in a puddle of my own sweat — Taekwondo’s precise, rigid movements and complicated forms requires a mental focus and physical flexibility that I really didn’t think I was ever capable of achieving. It’s hard work, but I’m doing it!

Speaking of hard work, I also managed to complete my longest long run yet this weekend: 11 miles. It was my first time breaking 10 miles on a long run, and I have to say that I completely agree with whomever first said that running is more mental than physical.

When my legs are starting to feel like lead and I just want to be DONE ALREADY, I really have to dig deep to find the motivation to finish. My mind seems to just completely take over, and I then can somehow manage to ignore an achy knee, blistering toe, grumbling tummy, or, let’s be honest, just plain old boredom.

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11 miles down!

While heading out for a quick 3-, 4-, or even 5-mile run is starting to feel pretty routine to me, those runs that are over 6 miles long are still mentally and physically exhausting. I was thrilled when I ran my first double-digit run, but to be honest it has been at least 2 weeks since my last long run…first there was the holiday craziness (read: I was too busy buying out the malls during the post-Christmas sales) and then I was too focused on my Muay Thai kickboxing test to carve out two hours for a long run.

I decided that since I try to take kickboxing on both Saturday and Sunday mornings (it’s hard for me to make the weeknight classes), that I’d move my long runs to Friday afternoons. And, since my first half marathon is but four short weeks away (!), I decided it was time to attempt breaking 10 miles…even though most training plans go up to 10, I felt that finishing 11 miles would somehow put me in the “half marathon zone.” I really just want to prove to myself that I CAN do this.

Here’s how my long runs typically work:

Miles 1-2: Warming up, finding my pace (I try to slow down to a 10-11/minute mile)

Miles 3-4: Feeling good, pumped up for the run

Miles 5-6: Starting to get a little tired, looking forward to whatever treat I have stashed in my fuel belt (side note: I’m still experimenting with fuel options because gels seem to make me nauseated, so I’m very much looking for suggestions!)

Miles 7-8: Questioning my sanity, wondering why the hell I committed myself to this

Miles 9-10: Exhausted, doubting that I’ll ever be able to make it to 13.1

Miles 11+: Glad it’s over, so incredibly PROUD that I finished

As I’ve gotten more serious about martial arts and my half-marathon training, I’m seeing more and more just how important these “small successes” really are.

Now that I’m slowly (and I do mean slowly) starting to get over my reluctance to set goals — I was always afraid I would just end up a “failure” — even the tiniest accomplishments are enough to make me over-the-moon excited. And, surprisingly enough, I’m even starting to allow myself to feel proud of my efforts instead of constantly tearing myself down.

Memorizing Taekwondo forms can be hard, and increasing your mileage in preparation for a half-marathon can seem insane, but somehow something as small as breaking a wooden board or slipping a finisher’s medal around your neck makes it all worth it!

What are some of your long run tips?

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Mastering the Art of Self-Confidence

This weekend, I earned my Bo-Black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing (in this program, it’s the belt right before black…and, not gonna lie, I’m excited because our names are embroidered on the belts).thaicertificate

As per my usual MO, I spent weeks freaking out about this test. Was I going to survive the workout? Could I remember all of the forms and self-defense moves? Could I break all of the boards? Was I going to fall flat on my face in front of everyone? Were spectators going to think I was strong enough, fast enough, fit enough, flexible enough to be a martial artist?

Then when I found out I was going to be expected to give a speech (mind you, a mere 60-90 second “testimonial” about what our martial arts training has done for us), that’s when I began losing sleep over the whole thing.

I know it’s only natural to feel butterflies before an event like this, but for me, I also happen to know that my nerves tend to run a little bit deeper than jitters.

After all this time, I still struggle with my self-confidence, and have to constantly force myself to believe that I CAN finish a 10K or ace a martial arts test or submit a great article for that new-to-me magazine. I waste an unbelievable amount of energy convincing myself that I’m not going to be able to do something — even when I know it’s ridiculous.

thaispeechOn Saturday, I had a few little amusing missteps — four attempts to break a few stupid wooden boards with a side-kick! — but you know what? I did just fine. Like I always do.

And that speech I’ve been panicking about? Thanks to the help of my my theater-trained sister, I was the only one who didn’t read straight from a piece of paper (which, by the way, I was told we were NOT going to have in front of us). I spoke from the heart about what martial arts has done for me, and all the words I had rehearsed just came pouring out. I even received a round of applause for my announcement about running my first half marathon next month, and several of my fellow candidates told me that I’m an inspiration and/or they had no idea I used to be overweight — both of which are still so hard for me to wrap my mind around.

I’m finding that every time I prove to myself I CAN do something, whether it’s crossing the finish line of a race or even having to (gasp!) speak in public, my self-confidence grows just a tiny little bit.thaiknee

Maybe someday I’ll be able to stop doubting myself and finally find my self-confidence, but for now, I’m thrilled with each and every step that gets me there.

In case anyone was curious, I thought I’d share the “testimonial” I submitted to be chosen to speak. Like running, I really do believe that martial arts has changed my life — so while it’s always a bit awkward for me to share the sordid details of my weight struggles, it really was an honor.

Shortly before I began the Thai Kickboxing program, I weighed almost 100 pounds more than I do today. I’ve struggled with obesity since childhood, and have always been 40, 60, or even 80 or more pounds overweight at any given time throughout my life.

 thaifrontAfter losing 90 pounds on Weight Watchers in 2008, I found myself getting bored with the treadmill and my usual gym routine.  I was terrified of gaining my weight back — as I had done so many times in the past — and wanted to find something that would keep me motivated and ensure that I never again returned to my old ways.

After my first Thai Kickboxing class, I was completely hooked…and today I can’t imagine my life without martial arts.IMG_1404

My training ended up doing so much more than helping me maintain my weight loss.  Today I’m in the best shape of my life, and feel both physically and mentally stronger than I ever thought possible. It has helped me break the cycle of constantly obsessing over my dress size, the number on the scale, or the need to be “skinny” — all I care about is being the healthiest person I can be, and pushing myself to become stronger, faster, and more physically fit.

Proving to myself that I could succeed in this program has given me the confidence to pursue my career goals and try other things I never thought I could do; I’ve recently started taking Taekwondo, and I’m training to run my first half marathon next month. 

thaithumbsup Five years ago I never could have imagined that I would enjoy waking up on a Sunday morning to endure an agonizing kickboxing workout, or head out for a 10-mile run.  My training has inspired me to live by principles like perseverance and self-control, and ultimately develop the tools I needed to conquer my weight problem once and for all.thaikick

I want to thank all of the instructors for always motivating us to improve, and for pushing us harder than we think we can go. I also want to thank you for the words of wisdom and motivation you share with us during class.  They are truly powerful for people like me who need the reminder of how far we’ve come — and why our health and physical fitness is worth fighting for.

What are some things you’ve done to help boost your self-confidence?

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Bye, Bye Comfort Zone

You know how people say that you have to break out of your comfort zone if you ever want to experience real change?

Well, I’m here now, and guess what? It’s scary as hell.

I am in the midst of my full-blown training plan for the Disney Princess Half Marathon next month, and as I log my mileage on Daily Mile and watch Feb. 24, 2013 get closer and closer on my calendar, I have to admit that my comfort zone is starting to feel like a distant memory. While it all seemed like such a wonderful idea back in August when I decided I was going to register for a half marathon, now that it’s almost here, the thought of running 13.1 miles seems downright crazy…and I can’t help but feel those voices of self-doubt starting to creep in. Can I REALLY do this?

Posing with my first belt!

Posing with my first belt!

Meanwhile, this weekend I am testing for my Bo Black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing. I’ve been training for two years, and this test is essentially the culmination of everything we’ve learned thus far…all to be demonstrated after a brutal 45-minute workout. I remember earning my orange belt early in 2011 and feeling such a sense of pride and accomplishment that I had not only summoned to courage to try something new — especially since the workouts are INSANE — but that I was actually sticking with it.

In addition to a million things I had to memorize for this test, including forms and step-by-step self defense moves that we’ll have to demonstrate for all our friends and family and the entire staff, we also had to submit a written testimonial about what our martial arts training has done for us.

Well, it turns out that some of us are going to be required to recite that testimonial in front of everyone…including yours truly.

I should tell you that I am not a public speaker. I have never been a public speaker. I am strictly a one-on-one communication kind of gal whose livelihood depends on the written word…not the spoken one.  I’m the kind of person who still gets nervous when sharing a story in front of a group of four or five friends at a restaurant, let alone delivering a personal speech about my weight loss woes in front of a room full of strangers (PS, I have no trouble baring my soul from behind the safety of a computer screen, though…go figure).

Years ago, the thought of getting up in front of a group of people and sharing my story would have induced sheer panic. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not thrilled with the idea, and I know I will probably deliver a less-than-flawless performance rife with “ums” and “uhs” and my own unique brand of awkward.

My very first race!

My very first race!

But part of me does recognize this opportunity as another chance to break out of my comfort zone and prove to myself that I am not the same person anymore. And I’m only borderline terrified.

I have never believed in myself. Ever. My go-to motto was always “I can’t.” I couldn’t lose weight, I couldn’t be a writer, I couldn’t make friends, I couldn’t run, and the list goes on and on. There was a time not all that long ago when I was convinced that I could NEVER finish a 5K, or that I could NEVER lose weight (and actually keep it off).

I’m tired of “I can’t.” I WILL complete that half marathon, I WILL survive my Bo Black test tomorrow…and I WILL deliver that speech!

What are some ways that you’ve broken out of your comfort zone?

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Welcoming 2013 with New Goals…Not Resolutions!

First things first: for those of you who have followed me over the years, as well as those who are seeing this blog for the very first time, I vow to you that THIS will be the year that I uphold my promise to update more frequently! I’ve set a very realistic and manageable goal — two posts per week — and I’m sticking to it.

So here it goes.happynewyear

Although I love the idea of a fresh start every January 1st, I’m really not a New Year’s resolution kind of gal. Anyone who has ever promised themselves that they’d lose weight in [insert year here] only to find themselves back on the couch with a bag of chips by January 15th knows that it takes a whole lot more than declaring a “resolution” once a year to make a permanent lifestyle change.

I prefer to live my one and only “resolution” — leading a healthy lifestyle — 365 days a year.

However, if there’s anything that the last six months of 2012 taught me, it’s that consistent goal-setting really is EVERYTHING. And best of all, you don’t have to wait until January 1, 2014 to set new goals for yourself…you can do it all year round!

Early last year, I would describe myself as a recreational runner at best. It was something I did to exercise, and that was pretty much it. At that point, I had participated in a few 5Ks and 4-milers “just for fun,” and had to admit that the thrill of crossing the finish line was unlike any I had ever experienced. I couldn’t deny my growing desire to give running a real shot.

I wanted to try a real training plan and I wanted to learn how to get faster and stronger, but I still couldn’t quite deny that nagging little voice in my head telling me that I would ALWAYS be too fat to run.

So when I raced in my local Firecracker 4-Miler on July 4th and found that my finishing time had not improved one little bit from my first time running the race in 2011 (it was also my first race overall), I decided it was time to make a choice.

Was I going to be a “real” runner, or what? And if so…what the heck was I waiting for?

I had to set a goal. A real goal. One that I couldn’t back out of even I wanted to. And that’s why, last August, I ended up setting the ultimate goal: to run a half-marathon. And not just any half-marathon…the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Feb. 2013.

I paid the pricey registration, booked myself an on-site room on the Walt Disney World resort, started comparing airfare, and Googled like crazy to find half-marathon training plans and advice on how I was actually going to make this goal a reality.

In the last six months of 2012, I followed training plans from Cool Running and raced in a handful of 5ks, 4-milers, and a 5-miler — and, surprise, surprise — my times started getting better and better! I even participated in two 10Ks, and much to my amazement, finished both in under 60 minutes.

I began the year struggling to maintain a 10-minute/mile pace, and now I’m averaging a 9-minute/mile pace. In 2011, I was running a 40-minute 4-miler, and now it takes me about 35 minutes. My 5K PR once hovered around 29 minutes, and in October I completed a sub-28 minute 5K for the first time.

thanksgiving

I celebrated the holidays not with alcohol and turkey and sweets (okay, fine, there was SOME of that going on!) but by racing in “turkey trots” and “jingle bell” runs. My Christmas list consisted of pretty much nothing but running gear and accessories, from a Garmin Forerunner 410 to more BondiBands and Sparkle Skirts to another Spibelt and fuel belt for long runs.

Yes, that’s right…I’m even doing “long runs” now! I used to think that the idea of me running five miles was laughable, if not downright impossible. And now my long runs are up to 10 miles and counting!

christmasBottom line? I am absolutely, utterly addicted to running. And it’s because I finally mustered the courage to set a goal that I can proudly say today that I am a “real” runner.

Whether it’s a weight loss goal (say, shedding those few extra holiday pounds!) or a running-related goal (like setting a new PR), consistently challenging ourselves with new feats to accomplish is how we grow. And that is why I’ve decided to make it official and declare my top three goals for 2013:

1.) Cross the finish line of my first half-marathon. An obvious choice! Aside from my weight loss, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything this much. I don’t care how long it takes me, or if I have to crawl across the finish line…I WILL do this!

2.) Pay closer attention to what my body is telling me. This is a big one for me. In the last few months I’ve dealt with a few minor injuries that I know resulted in pushing myself too hard. I combine my half-marathon training with my Muay Thai kickboxing, and because my two workouts of choice happen to be very high-impact, I’m working on learning how to just let my body rest (without the need to call myself “lazy”) and to know when I need to scale back my efforts for the sake of my well-being.

10k3.) Strive for improvement, not perfection. I am notoriously hard on myself, so when setting new goals this year, I will focus not on being “perfect” but on recognizing and celebrating my own personal improvement. That means no more beating myself up at the finish line when I miss setting a new PR or other time goal, or berating myself for indulging in dessert or not exactly following the day’s food plan. I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. And it’s time I start admitting it!

What are some of your goals for 2013?

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Five Years Later: In for the Long Haul

At this time five years ago, I was embarking upon my most recent weight loss journey. I started Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time in November 2007 — the weekend right after Thanksgiving, no less!

This is, by far, the longest I have ever succeeded in sticking to a “diet,” and it is absolutely the first time I’ve ever been able to maintain my weight loss — I’ve been maintaining my 90-pound loss since the beginning of 2009.

And it’s all because it stopped being a “diet” to me after the first week or two on the program.

If you had told me in 2007 that I would one day train for a half marathon or wear a bikini or actually enjoy eating spinach, I would have laughed in your face. These were things that were so completely foreign to me, and yet just five years later my love of quinoa and addiction to 10Ks are part of my daily life.

It took me quite some time to figure out that weight loss isn’t about going on a diet and starving yourself. It’s about making a commitment…to healthy eating and exercise, of course, but also to not allowing yourself to give up.

pumpkin2007I am where I am today because I decided to make eating nutritious foods and exercising several times a week my new lifestyle. I made it part of who I was as a person, not just something I was doing to drop a few dress sizes. I don’t just run…I became a runner. I don’t just go to kickboxing or Taekwondo classes…I became a martial artist. I didn’t just start eating salads and skipping dessert…I took the time to educate myself on what my body needs to function at its best, and became passionate about nutrition.

At first, however, I was inspired to rejoin Weight Watchers at age 22 for no other reason than fear: I had stepped on the scale (“just for fun”) and saw that I was well on my way to becoming a 300-pound 25-year-old.

My first official weigh-in clocked me in at 263.4 pounds. At the time, I was busting out of my size 20/22W pants.

Today, I continue to hover right around 175 pounds, and am a very comfortable size 8/10M.DSCF1718

Did I think that I would be at my “goal weight” by now? No question about it. I’d love to step on the scale and see a nice red 135 or 140. But if there’s anything that I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s that weight is truly just a number…and that it is far more important to learn to accept your body and appreciate your health. I don’t love my loose skin or my stretch marks, but you know what? I earned them — and they will forever remain visual proof of just how far I’ve come.

Instead of constantly tearing myself down, I’ve learned to take pride in my efforts. I don’t eat perfectly every single moment of every single day, but I do the best I can — and if I happen to indulge in an extra holiday cookie or two (or three or four…) this month, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

I eat ice cream and chips and chocolate, but they no longer control me…I know that I can enjoy the foods I love in moderation without falling victim to my old ways. I’m not the fastest runner, but I continue to lace up my sneakers almost every day and register for races because I’ve learned to be happy with progress — not perfection. I’m doing everything I can to take care of my body and make up for two decades of taking my health for granted.

Five years ago, I couldn’t begin to describe the misery I was experiencing every single day. Being obese is about more than having trouble finding cute clothes…it affects the way you see yourself, and touches every aspect of your life. I refused to participate in anything for fear of what people might be thinking about “that fat girl.” To me, everything was impossible, and I decided that any dream I had (e.g. becoming a writer) was simply out of my reach. And that was that. I was unhappy, and I just didn’t like myself…and that’s the only logical explanation that I can offer for allowing myself to pack on 100 pounds over the course of five years.

bryantpark2007My non-working hours were spent gouging myself on junk food when I thought nobody was looking, and I was practically on a first-name basis with the drive-thru employees at every fast food chain in a five-mile radius.  While I graduated high school as a reasonable size 10/12 (only because I crash-dieted and lost 60 pounds for the prom), I proceeded to pack on the freshman 50 once I started college…and an additional 50 after that by the time I was working at my first magazine job and struggling to find the confidence to pitch stories and take on more writing assignments. To me, nothing I did was good enough. I suffered from severe acid reflux and who knows what else, since I refused to visit a doctor for fear that they might give me a lecture about being too fat.

I did nothing to fix any of these problems, because I was so sure that I was destined to live a life of obesity. I had given up on myself at age 22, and simply resigned myself to being fat for the rest of my life. I can tell you from firsthand experience that there is absolutely nothing worse than believing that you are not just not worthy of happiness.DSCF1930

Today, I still have my share of problems. Believe me when I tell you that weight loss does not magically make your life perfect, and I continue to struggle every day with many of the same issues I had when I was 100 pounds heavier, from difficulty making friends to dealing with stress without making a trip to the refrigerator.

But for someone who has relied on food for comfort since childhood, the fact that I am here, five years later, has changed my entire outlook on life. If I can finally develop a healthy relationship with food or learn to love working out, then I can do ANYTHING. Sure, it’s great to wear cute dresses and not hate the way I look in every single photo, but knowing that I have done something many people struggle to do their entire lives means more to me than anything else in the world.

I have changed my life. I have rewritten my own life story. I have transformed myself from someone who couldn’t walk for 10 minutes to someone who runs 10 miles on the weekend.

I look forward to another five years of health and happiness…and, who knows, maybe by my 10-year anniversary blog post I’ll be training for my second or third full marathon. Anything is possible!

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Staying in Control Through Hurricanes and Snowstorms

As you may (or may not) know, I write from the great state of New Jersey. After living through Hurricane Sandy and witnessing the havoc it wreaked across my state, and now bracing for this lovely Nor’easter that has just arrived (in fact, I’m blogging from a power-less apartment after my electricity was shut off, AGAIN) I have slowly been losing control…over my mind, and also over my fitness regimen.

And I am not happy.

As someone who has come to loathe running on a treadmill, I do all of my race training in the Great Outdoors. But then a hurricane knocks down countless trees and power lines along my usual running routes, or blistering cold, rain, and snow (in the first week of November, for crying out loud!) make it unsafe to pound the pavement, and I’m finding myself losing momentum.

The Disney Princess Half Marathon is but a few short months away, and yet my latest long training run (8.5 miles, my furthest yet!) seems a distant memory. Meanwhile, my car is now officially out of gas, since I refused to wait in 3+ hour lines to fuel up, and my lack of ability to do any recreational driving means I can’t even get to my kickboxing or Taekwondo classes…not to mention the fact that the studio where I take class lost power for over a week.

The cherry on top of it all? Local supermarkets have been picked clean, and we currently have nothing but carb-laden pastas and boxed macaroni n’ cheese in the house. Meanwhile, I’ve always been an emotional eater, and thanks to the news and images of the death and destruction caused by the hurricane, I find myself fighting every day to keep my paws out of the Halloween candy that we never had a chance to give out (trick or treating has been cancelled until further notice in my town). I’m sure that I’ve certainly put on at least the “Sandy 5” already...quite possibly the “Sandy 10,” if I’m going to be completely honest.

Runners know that without a consistent training plan and lots and lots of practice, there’s little chance of improvement — not a problem a person training for her first half marathon wants to have! I was very disappointed when the Jersey Shore Running Club’s Trick or Trot” was cancelled, as was my much-anticipated PurpleStride 5K for pancreatic cancer, due to the storm. However, I was fortunate enough to run one Halloween-themed 5K right before the storm hit (dressed as Winnie the Pooh, in my new Team Sparkle skirt!)…and even though I had spent the previous evening dressed up as Minnie Mouse and guzzling cosmos, I somehow managed to PR! I’ve never broken 28 minutes in a 5K before, and my official chip time was 27:59.

As a Type-A personality, I need structure and consistency like most people need air — and now that inclement weather has interrupted the majority of my training runs and races these past two weeks, I feel completely out of control…and out of shape.

But then when I do make it to karate, or successfully complete even a quick 3-mile run, I feel a thousand times better. As soon as I feel that first bead of sweat begin to pour down my face, suddenly, everything feels right with the world. Call it endorphins, call it “runner’s high,” call it whatever you want, but these days, sticking to a workout regimen seems to be the only way for me to feel in control of my life.

When you witness the devastation of a weather event like a hurricane, you also can’t help but to feel grateful for what you have. I survived the hurricane with little more than a temporary loss of electricity, but there are people whose homes and all earthly possessions are gone — and whose lives were lost. It makes me think about the material possessions I am fortunate enough to be enjoying right now, like a roof over my head. However, as someone who has taken my health for granted for so many years, it also makes me genuinely appreciate everything that I can do now — from running to martial arts — and just how strong I am.

I am healthy and I am fit, and as long as I keep eating right and running and kicking, nothing can take that away from me.

Not a hurricane, and definitely not a snowstorm.

There are a whole lot of things in life that we have no control over, including natural disasters, but what we do have a say in is what we put into our bodies and how often we lace up our sneakers.

I may not be able to officially return to my stringent training plan for another few days, but I am squeezing in a sweat session as often as I can!

Has the weather ever affected your training plans or workout routine?

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Reaching New Goals: My First 10K

Okay, so I haven’t posted in a while — but with good reason, I swear! I finally went ahead and contacted a web designer who could help make my blog a bit more user-friendly (and, let’s face it, prettier) — thanks again, Shannon! And then I disappeared on a 10-day getaway to my happy place: Walt Disney World (and Universal and Sea World, too), to celebrate Halloween with my favorite Disney pals at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and stuff my face at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

As you may know, I’ve been dabbling in the world of half-marathon training since July, and I decided that before jumping from community 5Ks right into the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February, I’d try my hand (or feet, as it were) in a 10K.

That’s right. I ran my first 10K — Brian’s Run in Wayne, NJ — the day before I left for vacation (not a smart idea, by the way…walking for miles and miles all over the Disney World resort with stiff, achy legs was not fun). The event raises money for Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund (TCF) at Hackensack University Medical Center, which benefits pediatric cancer patients — I’m always thrilled to know my entry fees are being used for a great cause.

I had been following my own unique blend of a 10K and half marathon training program for weeks, altering workouts slightly to accommodate my robust martial arts training schedule (I recently signed up for Tae Kwon Do in addition to my Muay Thai kickboxing, but more on that later). However, during my training runs, I had been doing a lot more walking than I cared to admit, taking breaks in between each mile or two. I expected to do the same during my 10K.

Still, I went into the race feeling fairly confident that my training would push me through all 6.1 miles…but gave myself full permission to stop for a leisurely stroll if I needed the rest. And, as per my usual MO, instead of allowing myself to actually set a goal — because heaven forbid I “fail” — I tried to ignore my secret desire to complete the race in less than an hour. In fact, didn’t even allow myself to say it out loud. I was so sure I couldn’t do it.

Once I began the course, I had decided it was going to be impossible to meet my super secret goal, anyway, given that there was an enormous hill to climb every quarter mile! Don’t get me wrong, I knew the area was somewhat mountainous, and it was a lovely scenic route to take on a crisp early fall morning, but I never could have imagined that I would be running up and down countless hills, many of which were so steep I couldn’t see over the top. No exaggeration! After the third or fourth hill (which, admittedly, I don’t train on consistently enough), I decided I’d be lucky to cross the finish line in an upright position.

But then something amazing happened. I ran the first mile, and then the second, and then I finished a 5K and still didn’t feel the need to stop to walk. I just kept running. Though going uphill slowed my pace down a bit, a quick glance at my Garmin now and then (which I try not to stare at incessantly, because it drives me crazy) indicated that I was still maintaining my average race pace (9:30/mile).

And then there were miles 4, 5, and 6, which I had been having nightmares about for weeks. I’ve participated in my share of 5Ks, and I know how tired I am when I cross the finish line…so I couldn’t help but wonder how well I’d fare running two 5Ks back-to-back. You can imagine how many nightmares I’ve had about running a half marathon.

Guess what? I ran all three of those remaining miles…and still did not stop. Not once. I jogged through the water stops, ignored my burning quads on those hills, and just kept going.

Was I tired? Absolutely. Was I mentally writing a letter to the race day organizers requesting that, in the future, they should please describe the course as RIDICULOUSLY HILLY? Yes.

But for the first time, I actually heard my mental dialogue during a race transform from “you’re so slow, give it up” to “you’ve got this, keep it up.” I was doing something I never thought possible, and I was utterly astonished to find that, yes, all of my hard work was actually paying off.

Crossing the finish line of that 10K made all of the training runs I had done in the rain, or when it was 90+ degrees outside, or when my legs were sore, or when I was tired, or when I had all sorts of better things to do, so incredibly worth it.

The cherry on top of it all?

115    59:18.8 0039 JENNIFER NELSON          CRANFORD             NJ F 27  09:32

I actually did it — I finished in under 60 minutes!

I have to stop being too afraid of failure — or assuming I’m just not good enough — to set and reach a goal.

To some of the runners that day, it was just a 6.2 mile run. But for me, I will always remember it as the day I accomplished something I never thought possible…and all because I finally allowed myself to believe that I could.

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