Posts Tagged With: muay thai kickboxing

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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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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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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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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Learning to Silence Your Inner Critic

I ran my first 5K of the season this weekend, and shortly after I passed the first mile marker, I found myself falling victim to one of my old behavior patterns: negative self-talk. Or, in my case, mentally bashing myself.

I started the race strong: I shot out in front of most of the racers, and found myself keeping pace with some of the fastest runners for the first half mile. I finished the first mile at a perfectly respectable time of 8:30.

But, of course, my over-eager start ultimately cost me the rest of the race — by the second mile I was too winded to recover, and ended up crossing the finish line at one of my absolute slowest 5K times ever: 29:30.

Now, I’d really like to blame taking off too fast at the start of the race for my less-than-satisfactory time at the finish line. But as I tried to ignore my shortness of breath and the shooting pain from a side stitch, I was forced to tune in to my mental monologue. And what I heard really wasn’t pretty.

For the first time, I realized just how cruel I am to myself. And just how often I allow my inner critic to sabotage my success.

I’m fully aware that I’ve always been my own worst enemy. A perfectionist by nature, nothing I do is ever quite good enough, and I’ve always tended to shy away from any activity where I couldn’t be the best. So, naturally, when it comes to running — an activity that is so completely out of my comfort zone, and one in which I am nowhere near the top of the pack — I find that I can be especially self-degrading.

Meanwhile, I haven’t been training five times a week like many serious runners (I’ve been too busy with kickboxing, as of late), I definitely don’t have the body of a runner (the friction caused by large thighs doesn’t exactly bode well for your speed), and it’s an activity I’ve been doing seriously for less than a year, so I’m still very much a newbie in comparison to many of the other participants in the local races I’ve completed thus far.

But as I was sluggishly making my way through the second half of the race this weekend, I realized just how brutal my inner thoughts can be. After I realized that I blew my chances of setting a new PR, and that I wasn’t at all prepared to recover the way I could have if I had trained properly, I launched into a mental tirade of insults that I would never, ever say to someone else. Things like:

“See? You are too fat to run.”

“This is what you get for being lazy and not training enough.”

“You have no right to be out here with all the real runners.”

“Running is clearly not your thing.”

“Give it up already.”

Granted, I walked away with the second place medal for my age group (25-29), but it was only because each racer is only entitled to one award, and the first and second place finishers overall happened to be in their late twenties. I actually came in fourth…and don’t think it was lost on me that there were only a handful of runners in my age group participating in the race.

It’s always discouraging to fall short of your own expectations. Believe me, I should know. But I’m genuinely saddened that a matter of seconds tacked onto my finish time can make me feel like such a failure. I couldn’t manage to give myself credit just for participating in the race, or even for taking home a medal. I couldn’t see the situation logically, and realize that this was the first 5K I’ve run since last November, and yeah, maybe I’m a little rusty.

And maybe, just maybe, I let my negative mindset get the best of me this time.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I’ll admit that I’ve thought of quitting running more than once. It’s hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me. There’s lingo to learn, from pronation to fartlek to cadence. There are intense, structured training programs to follow for everything from improving your per-mile time to building the stamina to complete a longer race, like a 10K or half-marathon.

I know I have a long road ahead if I’m going to work on getting faster and improving my performance on race day. There are plenty of other activities that I love, from kickboxing to biking, and I could easily just go back to jogging recreationally from time to time and never register for another 5K again.

But I just can’t bring myself to quit. That’s always been my MO. When the going got tough, I got the hell out of there. When I couldn’t be number one, I decided it wasn’t worth doing.

I may not be “at goal,” but after nearly five years, I still haven’t quit on my new healthy lifestyle…and I will not give up on running.

There’s part of me that’s still overwhelmed with pride when I cross that finish line…even if my per-mile time isn’t worth celebrating. I often wonder if I’m drawn to running simply because it was never something I was physically capable of doing. There’s still that little second grader somewhere inside me who always came in dead last on the mile in gym class, or that high school kid who used to scoff at the athletes and wonder why anyone would choose to put their body through the discomfort of physical activity when they could be relaxing at home in front of the television.

I may never be the fastest runner. But there’s a part of me who wants to continue running simply because I can. Ever since that first time I hesitantly and awkwardly picked up my pace on the treadmill from a steady walk to a slow jog, running has always symbolized the end of the old me.

I just feel as though my key to becoming a better runner will have less to do with tempo runs and more to do with finally silencing my inner critic. I have got to stop berating and insulting myself. I have to stop tearing myself apart for failing to meet my own impossible demands — I mean, did I really expect to magically have the ability to run an eight-minute mile?

I have to find the strength to accept my best efforts.

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Oh, Gym, How I Loathe Thee. Let Me Count the Ways.

Recently in my journey to optimal health and fitness, I have discovered a shocking new development.

I absolutely, positively hate the gym.

When I first began losing weight, if I wasn’t at home or at work, I was on the elliptical at my local YMCA. As a result of juggling two jobs, my only available workout time was 5:30am — and that’s precisely when I would arrive at the gym, every single weekday morning.

While at first I was intimidated and insecure about how I, a 265-pound young woman, would look to others as I sweated and grunted my way through 30 minutes on the cross trainer, it wasn’t long before the gym became my second home.

If I missed a day, everyone wanted to know where I had been. As the pounds began melting off my body, I became the subject of admiration. People wanted to know how I was losing the weight, and — believe it or not — some women even began asking me for diet and exercise advice.

The gym had become a place that I associated with success, so it was no wonder that I did everything in my power to squeeze in a workout at least five times a week — at one point, I even belonged to two gyms at once!

Suddenly, my identity had transformed from an obese, lonely couch potato to a fit, healthy gym rat — and I was loving every second of it.

I really can’t pinpoint when my hot-and-heavy love affair with the gym began to fizzle out. Maybe it was after I signed up for my first 5K, and found running outdoors far better preparation for tackling a 3.1 mile road race than pounding a treadmill. Possibly it was after I began plunking down a significant portion of my monthly income to join a local karate studio and participate in Muay Thai-style kickboxing classes three times a week. Or perhaps it was when I received a truckload of fitness accoutrement, from kettle bells to a BOSU ball, for my birthday and Christmas and assembled my own makeshift workout studio in the basement.

Whatever the reason, in recent months I’ve been finding myself dreading my sessions with the treadmill. For weeks I’ve been falling victim to the evil Excuses Monster whenever it comes time to hop in my car and hit the gym.

I just don’t want to go, and I’ll do anything I can to substitute 40 minutes of pedaling my way through a ho-hum elliptical workout with another form of physical activity for the day — yes, even housecleaning!

Now, before you get a mental picture of me spending my afternoons lounging on the couch in my sweats, let me assure you that I am continuing to exercise just as often — and just as intensely — as ever. I still work out 5-6 days per week, and typically for at least 45 minutes. Sometimes I’m taking my kickboxing class, and sometimes I’m eking out lunges or experimenting with new kettle bell routines from my favorite fitness magazines in the basement.

(And yes, I do, of course, still have a gym membership.)

The only difference is that I’m now harboring a new love interest: the Great Outdoors. Even in the midst of frigid New Jersey winter temperatures, my second home has become the local park and biking trails.

I absolutely love lacing up my sneakers and giving myself an opportunity to enjoy some fresh air as I head out for a run around the neighborhood, or a bike ride to the park with the help of my favorite 2011 Christmas present: a Trek 7.3 hybrid.

Exercising outdoors has a way of making me feel energetic and invigorated in a way that watching the clock as I jog mindlessly on a treadmill never has. Better yet, I know for a fact that I get a more vigorous full-body workout from running or biking outdoors than one on a treadmill or stationary bike — I can tell you that it’s a heck of a lot harder pushing myself through a four-mile run on the sidewalk than on a treadmill that does a lot of the work for me!

The best part of all is knowing that I have lots of options for getting in my workout, even if the desire to pump iron in a stuffy gym packed with New Year’s Resolutioners just isn’t striking.

I know many people take cover and hibernate their way through these bitterly cold winter months, but for anyone who feels that they have to solely get their sweat on at the gym until April, I can assure you that all you need is the right attitude — okay, and the appropriate winter workout wear — to experience some of the best outdoor workouts of 2012 right now!

What are some of the ways you exercise outdoors — even in the winter?

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The Beginning of the End

First, I want to wish everyone a happy new year, and apologize for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from my blog.

I’d like to brush off my absence with a simple “oops, I’ve been busy,” which is certainly true, but the good news is that I have been preoccupied making some much-needed overhauls to my life. With just a few major victories tossed in!

First and foremost, I finally summoned the courage to walk away from a part-time job that had become physically and mentally draining. Yes, I know this technically makes me a quitter, but the whole reason I accepted a 5:30am shift working the desk at a local gym is, quite frankly, I doubted my ability to financially succeed as a writer so much that I was willing to sacrifice my social life, my sleep, and my sanity for the sake of having a few extra bucks in my bank account each month.

The truth is that a few months ago I became tired of just peering over the edge of my dreams — I needed to take a leap of faith. And committing myself to my writing career wholly and completely seemed to be the solution. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

In fact, several weeks ago I found the courage to pitch a story idea to one of my dream magazines — a national health/fitness publication — and after lots of follow-up e-mails, I actually landed the assignment! I intend to let this victory become a turning point in my career — it’s time to have faith in my abilities as a writer.

The same goes for finding the courage to participate in the handful of 5Ks and four-miler races I competed in last year. The most meaningful one took place in November, when I ran a 5K and raised over $500 to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

My grandpa succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2004, and losing him remains the most painful experience of my life. Over the past several years, I’ve promised myself that I was going to do something — namely, a 5K — to take action against this disease and honor his memory, but I kept telling myself I’d never be able to actually complete a race or solicit enough donations to make a difference.

In 2011, I finally ran that race. It felt incredible to be surrounded by so many people who had been touched by pancreatic cancer and were coming together to fight back. Best of all, I know for a fact that Pop was with me that day; I will never, ever forget the moment when I crossed the finish line and suddenly his absolute favorite musician, Johnny Cash, started blaring over the loudspeaker. I had just finished listening to my race day playlist of Johnny Cash songs on my iPod, and when I pulled out my earbuds and realized that “I Walk the Line” had come on just in time for me to finish my 5K, it was the first time in the seven years since his death that I knew undeniably that he was with me. And that I had made him proud.

In another significant running achievement, I was also awarded my very first medal for placing third in my age group after competing in a four-mile race sponsored by the Central Jersey Road Runners Club — I’m now officially a member!

Granted, I know I probably placed because there weren’t a whole lot of people racing that day — and there definitely weren’t many runners my age — but I did improve my time significantly (35:29) from my very first four-mile race on the 4th of July (40:31), and it’s an indescribable feeling when I can genuinely experience pride in an accomplishment I’ve made.

I’ve gone through life feeling unworthy of praise from others, and I’ve never fully been able to give myself credit. But I’ve worked hard to be a better runner in the last six months, and I’d say I earned that medal!

This month also marks a full year that I’ve been studying Muay Thai kickboxing. I remember being so terrified of breaking a measly little wooden board to earn my first belt (in fact, I blogged about it), and today I’m a red belt, which officially makes me an advanced martial arts student. I do very much want to be a black belt someday, and even I can admit improvement in my techniques — and my overall confidence — since January 2011. I absolutely love my kickboxing classes, and they have transformed me both physically and mentally in more ways than I thought possible. I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it.

In fact, I hope to make 2012 the year of following through on all of my goals — and above all, finishing what I’ve started. An anniversary weekend with my boyfriend, another Disney World vacation, and lots of holiday hooplah have led me to slip a bit (okay, a lot) in my healthy eating and workout routine, but I’m back on track and ready to continue making progress this year!

November marked my four-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers member, and while I am thrilled and proud to still be living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining my weight loss, I want nothing more than to become a Lifetime member — which means reaching my goal weight. Whatever that is!

In the last year or two I’ve become so focused on my fitness-related goals and, honestly, enjoying my new size 8/10 body so much, that I think I may have lost sight of the prize. I know that I will weigh never 125 pounds, and I also know that my loose skin and stretch marks will always serve as battle scars from years of yo-yo dieting. But this year I vow to reach a healthy weight and finally begin the process of becoming a Lifetime member…and, maybe, even starting to work towards becoming a Weight Watchers leader.

For possibly the first time ever, I’m not afraid to set a goal…and believe that I will see it through to the end.

What are some of your goals for 2012? Please share!

*Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter @jenniferlnelson, or e-mail me at jennifer@jenniferlnelson.com. Thank you, as always, for reading!

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