Posts Tagged With: martial arts

Weekly Workouts and 4th of July Racing!

Hi all! Sorry I was such a bad blogger last week, the days just sort of escaped me! But since we’re starting a new week (and a new month), I figure I’m due for a fresh start, anyway, right?

Photo credit: Christine "Hopper" Nelson

Photo credit: Christine “Hopper” Nelson

I already got a little bit of a head start on this week’s holiday celebrations; my hometown holds their fireworks the weekend prior to the 4th of July!

So, here’s what last week’s workouts looked like.

Monday (24th): Rest

Tuesday: 6 miles and Taekwondo class

Wednesday: 3 miles and Thai Kickboxing class

Thursday: 2 miles (this was supposed to be a rest day, but, I just got the urge!)

Friday: 8 miles and Taekwondo class

Saturday: Thai Kickboxing class

Sunday: Thai Kickboxing class

Total weekly mileage: 19 miles

I was excited to get in my longer run this week, and surprisingly, I felt better than I thought I would. I’m still not loving long runs in the summer, but since my strategy for the Dumbo Double Dare is purely to finish and, oh yeah, HAVE THE TIME OF MY LIFE, I’m taking them nice and easy. I think my body is finally adapting to the heat and humidity in general, because running didn’t feel quite as torturous this week, so that’s also a bit of good news!

Firecracker 4-miler, 2011

Firecracker 4-Miler, 2011

Since my piano teaching schedule lightens up A LOT in the summer, I’m able to get to my karate studio a bit more often for classes. So I’m finding myself sometimes working out twice a day…which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing for now, but I know I’ll have to chill out a bit as Dumbo gets closer. Taekwondo is really an ideal cross-training activity for me because it forces me to stretch (good lord, how something can hurt SO bad and feel SO good at the same time, I’ll never know), but Thai can be really quite brutal on the body…and the last thing I need is an injury right now!

This week, I’m gearing up for the annual race hosted right in town where I live (and the park where I always run!): the Cranford Jaycees Firecracker 4-miler. This will be my third year running. The first year was my absolute first race ever (I skipped the 5K distance and went straight to 4 miles for some unknown reason), and the second year was my wake-up call.

4miler2012

Firecracker 4-Miler, 2012

I finished the race in almost the exact same time both years (and at over 40 minutes!), and last year, I had to ask myself whether or not I was going to commit to running and actually improving…otherwise, why waste the money on race fees? Just days later, I took a leap of faith and signed up for the Princess Half Marathon, and the rest is history!

So, needless to say, I’m hoping to crush my two previous times this year. I shaved 5 whole minutes off my time at the last 4-miler I participated in, but that race took place almost a year ago, so I’m anxious to see what I can do this July 4th! I know one thing for certain — I’ll definitely be more festively-dressed this year! (Hint: my race-day attire will definitely feature something sparkly…)!

I never, ever could have predicted that a holiday that used to be celebrated by stuffing my face with cheeseburgers and boozing in someone’s backyard would someday become all about waking up early to run a race! Who knew?!

Who else is racing this 4th of July? 🙂

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Weekly Workouts and My Gold Belt!

IMG_7827Hi all! How was everyone’s weekend? This Friday, I was FINALLY promoted to gold belt in Taekwondo — super exciting!

It typically takes me way longer to graduate to the next belt level than it should because my piano teaching schedule makes it hard for me to make more than one class per week. It can be a little bit frustrating to feel so behind…especially since all of the “grown-ups” I joined with are now at the green belt level, and I often have to take classes with kids!

However, I really do enjoy martial arts. Don’t get me wrong — it’s no running or anything! — but there’s something about the whole “mind-body connection” aspect of Taekwondo that really appeals to me, and the lessons in discipline really have trickled down into other areas of my life.

Meanwhile, Thai Kickboxing has helped me discover both my inner and outer strength, and taught me how to defend myself…which as a newly-single woman I think is always very important. Not that my recent dates have given me any reason to bust out my sick moves…yet!

There’s nothing that eliminates my stress like punching and kicking and elbowing and kneeing a wavemaster until there’s a puddle of sweat at my feet and my heart is pounding out of my chest, or working one-on-one with a partner to see how these techniques might just work in a real confrontation. I have to say, hearing classmates and instructors call me “the tough one” always makes me feel really good. I may have never been the “pretty” girl or the “popular” girl, but, today, I absolutely revel in being considered the “strong” girl.

IMG_7749Monday (17th): 6 milesIMG_7772

Tuesday: 3 miles

Wednesday: 4 miles

Thursday: Off

Friday: Taekwondo class and graduation

Saturday: 4 miles and Thai Kickboxing class

Sunday: 3 miles and Thai Kickboxing class

Total weekly mileage: 20 miles

I’m planning on getting in a long run today or tomorrow (most likely tomorrow, because I am SORE), since I once again missed out over the weekend! I figured I’d focus on ramping up my volume this week to compensate for being a little behind in my Dumbo training plan.

I’ve noticed that trying to juggle my addiction to both martial arts and running tends to pose a few issues when I need to be getting in those longer runs during half marathon training. I can only make Thai Kickboxing classes on the weekend, typically, which is when I really need to be focused on pounding the pavement.IMG_7829 And, let’s face it, neither activity is particularly gentle on the body, so when I don’t wake up feeling sore and stiff, I almost feel like I must be doing something wrong!

Trying to squeeze all of the martial arts classes I can into each week along with whatever runs are scheduled on my training plan really isn’t easy, but I’m trying to make it work!

Anyone else have a favorite fitness activity besides running? How do you juggle them both?

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Putting Myself ‘Out There’

For more than three years now, I have been keeping a secret.

I have a blog.

While those of you who follow me on Twitter — my main forum for publicizing the goings-on here at “The Final Forty” — may be scratching your heads right now, allow me to explain.

beach2007

2007, size 20W

I started blogging in January of 2010 after my weight loss progress on Weight Watchers halted to a standstill. I had shed 80 pounds in 2008, followed by a SLOOOW 10 pounds in 2009, and then after that…nothing. Nada. Zilch. I did absolutely everything I could think to do to kickstart my weight loss again, and yet that scale just would not budge.

Meanwhile, throughout the process of losing so much weight in such a short period of time, I was forced to face an endless string of emotional issues. As I watched my body shrink from a size 20/22W to a size 8/10M, all of the issues that had led me to become so overweight in the first place came rushing to the surface. I had been drowning my emotions in food for so long that once that crutch was no longer there, I didn’t know how to deal with it all. Desperate to keep the weight off, I went in search of anything I could do to make sure my various issues didn’t become so overwhelming that I ended up returning to my old ways…as I had done so many times in the past.

And that is why I started blogging. It was for no reason than to serve as a place for me to sort through all of the issues that go along with making such a drastic lifestyle change so quickly. I told a select handful of people about my blog, assuming that nobody would ever care to venture into the inner-workings of my mind, and that was that. I posted a new blog every week or two…or month or two…and it continued to serve as a personal diary of sorts.

The reason I write this post today is because I am tired of hiding. I have spent the majority of my life hiding behind my weight and using it as an excuse not to do what I really want to do.

I was bullied day in and day out for years for being “the fat girl,” and it’s hard for me to admit it, but I am so not over the pain and humiliation that comes from being singled out and having what I believed was my worst flaw pointed out to me over and over again in the cruelest ways imaginable. I am not over it. I probably never will be.

DSCF9982_2

2012, size 10M

I always wondered if some of my former classmates would ever stumble upon my blog, and that thought used to terrify me…but it is within the last few months that I’ve realized that, in many ways, I owe a part of my success to them. I use the pain of what they put me through to fuel me today…and while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, facing that kind of adversity from such a young age has forced me to work so much harder and made me so much stronger than I ever thought I could be.

This whole quest to lose “the final forty” has been frustrating, to say the least, but it has also been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life…and I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. Whether the scale reflects it or not, my body continues to change, and five years later, I can say that my mind is FINALLY starting to catch up with the person I am on the outside.

I owe a lot of that to the incredible support and encouragement that I started to find as soon as I began opening myself up to others, whether it was on Twitter or Facebook or through the countless amazing blogs I read written by people who continue to inspire me to chase my goals every single day, whether it’s pitching my dream magazine or registering for my next half marathon.

princesshalf4My blog is starting to grow now — in fact, I’ll be sharing a new brand ambassadorship here very soon! — and while it will always be a little strange posting personal thoughts and feelings to be read by people I know in “real life,” I’m not afraid anymore. Believe it or not, until today, I never even advertised my own blog on my personal Facebook page…I was judged for so long that it was hard not to obsess over what people would think about my musings on such personal topics as loose skin, or my most embarrassing “before” photos.

But you know what…this is me today, and as hard as it is for me to admit it sometimes, I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, I’m proud of who I am, and after 20+ years of hating my body, I’ve finally reached a place where I can accept myself just the way I am…and I don’t care who knows it. I mean, if I can post pictures of myself in a bathing suit for all the world to see, then I shouldn’t be afraid of anything, right?

People sometimes tell me that I am an inspiration to them (in fact, this awesome runner I’ve been following actually wrote a blog post inspired by something I talked about here, and that is just so unbelievably flattering to me…thank you!), and while it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the notion of inspiring someone else, I do believe I have something to offer the world…and I plan to do just that.

princesshalfI don’t think I would be where I am today in my running journey if it wasn’t for the community of runners who are always willing to share advice and words of encouragement and, yes, even to talk me off the ledge, so to speak, when I was convinced that I’d never be able to finish a 5k…or a 10k…or a half marathon.

I want to fully engage in that community, and I want to fully commit to my running goals — and it all starts with not being afraid to put myself out there.

Discovering my passion for running (and martial arts!) has helped me to conquer so many of my demons, and maybe I’m as addicted to running as I once was addicted to food — jury’s still out on how healthy THAT is! — but I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t finally discover something that has helped give meaning to my transformation and my future as a healthy, active person.

So…if you’re reading this, and would be so kind as to connect with me, here’s where to find me. No more hiding!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenniferlnelson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheFinalForty

E-mail: thefinalforty at gmail dot com

Professional website: www.jenniferlnelson.com

Do you ever have a hard time posting about personal topics when people you know in “real life” are reading?

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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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Pushing Your Limits…But Not Too Far

First, the good news: I ran another 10K last weekend at Giralda Farms in Madison, NJ, and while I didn’t technically beat my time from my first 10K in September, it was still 6.2 miles. And I ran it. All of it. Even the hills!

Now the bad news: my half-marathon training (running 4-5 times per week) combined with my twice-weekly Taekwondo class and the Muay Thai kickboxing classes that I take three times a week have finally caught up with me. I did something to my lower back, and it has now become excruciatingly painful to bend over or do any of those other basic movements that we all perform in a day and never think about — like grabbing the milk from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, or, you know, sitting in a chair.

I’ve always prided myself on never doing anything halfway. My Type A personality combined with OCD tendencies have always compelled me to either let something completely consume my life until I achieve what I consider perfection, or I just don’t bother doing it at all.

And with running, there’s an added incentive for me to go overboard…I really, really want to cross the finish line of my first half marathon…the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I want it quite possibly more than I’ve ever wanted anything. For a formerly obese person like me, achieving a feat of physical fitness like running 13.1 miles is the epitome of doing the impossible…and I need to do this to prove to myself once and for all that the old me is gone forever.

The bottom line is that being active has become part of my identity. It’s who I am now. Just as I once defined myself as “the fat girl,” these days I am actually coming to to terms with the fact that I am a runner. I won’t be shattering world records any time soon, but nevertheless, I am a bonafide runner who looks forward to a Saturday morning 5K the way I once used to get all hot and bothered over a Friday night date with a bag of Doritos.

But the problem is that I love martial arts, too. Maybe a little too much. Next month, I test for a Bo Black belt in Muay Thai, and I just started my Taekwondo training — which has proven both physically and mentally challenging (who knew it would be so hard to balance on one foot or remember a form?) and has therefore once again awakened the perfectionist, competitive beast inside of me. I know I’ll never be the fastest runner, but I think that with the right training, I could quite possibly be an above-average martial artist.

And that’s why there are days I squeeze in a 3- or 4-mile run before a 45-minute Muay Thai workout that’s immediately followed by a one-hour Taekwondo class. I have been fortunate enough to find not one, but three fitness activities that I love and that have helped me to both maintain my weight loss and sculpt the fittest body I have ever had in my 27 years of existence. I got bored with my elliptical workouts and pretty much every other workout I’ve ever tried (Zumba, step aerobics, Spinning, yoga…you name it), and yet when I’m running a race or roundhouse kicking a Wavemaster or trying in vain to perfect the art of the chop block, I never, ever find myself watching the clock or battling the urge to quit due to boredom.

And my incessant need to keep pushing my limits to get better and better has clearly caused me an injury that, unlike my usual soreness or the occasional pulled muscle, doesn’t just disappear after 2-3 days. I’ve been ignoring my lower back pain for longer than I care to admit, hoping that it would just magically fix myself…but now that the pain is the worst it has ever been, even I have to admit that I may need to scale it back a bit. And, you know, actually see a doctor (I finally gave in and made an appointment with a chiropractor).

So as we head into a time of year that’s all about gratitude, I feel compelled to say that I am genuinely thankful for my body and my health and for everything that it has helped me accomplish in the last five years since I began my weight loss journey.

And while I will not stop training for my half marathon or squeezing in a martial arts class whenever I can, I will work on listening to my body and learning how to recognize when I’m pushing myself too hard. I will also do what I have to do to recover from whatever is going on with my back — even if it means, heaven forbid, taking an extra rest day or two!

Have you ever dealt with a sports-related injury?

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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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Dressing the Part: My Running Essentials

Unlike my Muay Thai kickboxing obsession (not cheap!), I assumed that running would be a relatively inexpensive sport. Sneakers can be pricey, but other than that, what else could you possibly need?

Oh, how wrong I was. Since I started running more seriously, I’ve discovered just how much you need to pound the pavement, from an ample supply of sports bras (lest you do laundry every single day) to gadgets to keep track of pace and distance.

Here are some of my favorite goodies, and other running essentials.

1.) Running Wardrobe

I have Kohls to thanks for my abundant wardrobe of running tanks, capris, shorts, jackets, pull-overs, and sport bras. I’ve pretty much become a walking billboard for FILA, which is the only brand I’ve found thus far that always fits me like a glove and, most importantly, is relatively affordable…especially when I have a coupon!

Though they’re not a sports company, per se’, I actually like Lily of France sports bras (also from Kohls); call me crazy, but I’m not a fan of uni-boob, so instead of the ones that squish everything down and make me look like a 10-year-old boy, I prefer bras like these.

I have amassed more running clothes, with tanks in every color of the rainbow — and pants to match — than I care to admit. Yet, somehow, I’m still doing more laundry than I have in my life! My workout wardrobe practically exceeds my regular wardrobe now…and I kind of love it.

As a bonus, it wasn’t until I upgraded my workout wear from $5 cotton tanks from Walmart that I started to feel like a “real runner.” There’s definitely something to be said for dressing the part!

2.) SPIBelt

I can’t believe I just discovered these! For so long, I was jamming everything from keys to money to snacks into my bra (super cozy, by the way), or simply neglecting to take my cell phone with me on runs (never a good idea), because I had nowhere to store my essentials when on-the-go. After Googling around for a solution to my problem, a blog by 30 Something Mother Runner turned me on to Spibelts — small personal item belts — and I am officially hooked.

They’re practically microscopic (when I first saw it in person, I thought it was some kind of joke), but they do, in fact, expand to fit quite a bit of stuff — even my clunker of a smartphone. Fortunately, my camera — also on the larger side — fits in there beautifully, so I no longer have to worry about how I’m going to capture all those magical moments when I run the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February.

Best of all, it doesn’t bounce, move, or shift at all when I’m running…you can hardly even tell you’re wearing what’s essentially a mini fanny pack (but way cooler). Also, they’re affordable (around $20) and come in lots of different colors and patterns, even polka dots — my fave!

3.) Bondi Band

I recently won two Bondi Bands in a giveaway on Road Runner Girl’s blog, and just tried these out for the first time yesterday. To say I’m a heavy sweater would be an understatement — no matter what the weather’s like, I’m literally dripping wet at the end of a run, and I perspire more than any of the women (and most of the men, for that matter!) in my kickboxing classes. It’s gross. I’ve been wearing my RunDisney hats all summer (I may or may not have ordered all four…), which do have the added benefit of shielding my face from the sun while absorbing excess sweat, but the Bondi Band is truly the answer to my prayers.

It’s essentially a large, thin headband made of sweat-wicking material; like the Spibelt, they  come in all sorts of colors and styles, but the best part is that they’re super effective. It covers almost my entire forehead, which means no slipping or re-adjusting, and it was lightweight enough that I didn’t even remember I was wearing it — it’ll fit nicely under my helmet when I’m biking. Best of all, I wore it on a mid-day run on a humid August day, and didn’t get so much as a drop of sweat in my eyes!

I’m ordering more today — and they’re going to be a welcome replacement to the stinky old men’s sweat band I’ve been using for kickboxing class, too! I’ll just have to stick to basic black, though — the karate master would surely kick me out of class for wearing something like these fun and fashionable designs.

4.) Sneakers

Of course, there is no running without sneakers. Well, unless you’re one of those minimalist barefoot runners, I suppose (still can’t get on board with that one). I’m a size 10 wide, so when it comes to choosing running sneakers, it’s basically a matter of finding a store that even carries my size. I rarely have a choice of style or color…I’m lucky to find more than one pair of running sneakers in a wide-width in any given store.

I was wearing Nikes for ages, but finally hauled myself to my local running store for a proper fitting, and it turns out they were doing nothing for my pronation type — or, at least that’s what the sales associate said after watching me stroll around the store in my socks.

They carried precisely one shoe that would accommodate my massive feet, and I’ve been in love with Saucony ever since. I just got these for my birthday!

5.) Garmin Forerunner

This was my first real piece of running gear (other than sneakers). Anyone who has even the slightest interest in tracking their speed and distance — which is pretty much all of us — has to invest in one of these watches. They’re definitely on the pricey side (in the neighborhood of $200), but I’ve been using the 405cX for a few years now with no issues.

Short of counting laps on a track (boring) or timing yourself with stopwatches (tedious), it’s pretty hard to train for any kind of race, whether it’s a 5K or marathon, without tracking your pace and distance…or, even if you’re not training for races, just to keep tabs on your overall improvement. Some of the watches are even compatible with heart rate monitors, for those of us counting our calories in and calories out!

6.) Ipod

I can’t run without music. So last but certainly not least, I never head out for a run without my iPod. I don’t run in the dark, and I always try to stick to well-populated areas, so I figure it’s okay to jam out while I get my sweat on.

I’m partial to the iPod nano…pretty much because it’s small and has a clip that attaches right to my top, and don’t have to fuss with arm bands.
What are some of your running essentials?

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How Self-Discipline Makes All the Difference

In my Muay Thai kickboxing class, the instructor talks a lot about discipline. The cornerstone of martial arts training, self-discipline is even part of the “Student Creed” we have to recite before leaving class (along with things like perseverance and honesty), and he often ends class with a speech with cutesy quotes like: “A disciplined life is a happy life.”

But there’s one saying that always seems to get me. Recently, he ended class by saying: “If you have self-discipline, you can have anything.” And now that I am officially training for a half marathon, and — I don’t want to jinx it — the scale is budging ever-so-slowly in the right direction again, I can say with absolute certainty that self-discipline is the absolute most important quality I’ve had to develop along my health and fitness journey.

As I’m sure any runner would agree, it takes a special kind of self-discipline to pull yourself out of bed before the sun rises to log miles, or to lace up your sneakers after a grueling day at the office. And anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight knows that there’s often nothing standing between you and that extra slice or pizza or a heaping bowl of ice cream except your own ability to tell yourself no.

To me, self-discipline is about saying you’re going to do something — and then actually doing it. It’s about making yourself a priority, and keeping your own promises. It’s about setting a goal and not allowing yourself to quit. It’s about developing the strength to deny yourself something that may be easier or more fun — e.g. skipping your run to lounge on the couch, opting for the cheeseburger instead of the salad — because you know it will only hinder your own success.

As someone who used to tip the scales at over 260 pounds, I can tell you exactly what it’s like to not have any self-discipline at all. While I was always an over-achiever in the classroom, when it came to my health, laziness was the name of the game. If I didn’t “feel like” doing something, I didn’t do it. If I had a sudden craving for a milkshake, off to Baskin-Robbins I went. I’d promise myself I wasn’t going to overeat at a restaurant, but then proceed to order the greasiest, most unhealthy option on the menu — fettucine alfredo was my go-to meal of choice — and polish off the entire plate. My short-lived attempts to exercise were always lackluster at best — I could stick to a walking regimen for about a week, tops, before allowing myself to quit.

In some ways, I’m sure it sounds fun to do (or, in my case, not do) whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s a certain freedom that comes with giving up on yourself and having no goals. By the time I started college, I had completely resigned myself to a life of obesity; I figured I was “meant” to be fat, so I did absolutely nothing to stop piling on the pounds. It’s just oh-so-easy easy to stuff your face with whatever happens to be in front of you, and never have to worry about the ramifications to your health.

At first, developing self-discipline meant having the strength to say “no” to the temptation to skip a workout or eat something that I knew would come back to haunt me on the scale. But these days, the ability to set my own goals and stick to them has proven more rewarding that I ever thought possible…and I’m finding that it’s getting easier.

Last week, I earned my brown-tip belt in Muay Thai, which in my school is granted after approximately 18 months of training. This week, after returning from a weekend getaway (more on that later), I went out and pushed my body through five miles. Every morning, I plop myself in front of my laptop in my home office, even though the TV is just steps away and sometimes I just don’t feel like working.

Sometimes, self-discipline means sacrifice. But to me, developing self-discipline has proven the only way to really have everything I’ve ever wanted in life.

What are some ways you’ve practiced self-discipline to reach your goals?

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