Posts Tagged With: working out

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

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

A segment of yesterday's running route!

A segment of yesterday’s running route!

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

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

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

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

12m_1

Longest run ever: 12 miles!

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

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

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

12m_3

Feeling good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Appreciating The Body You Have…Right Now

For as long as I can remember, I hated the body I saw when I looked into the mirror.

Everyone has their body hang-ups. I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who couldn’t name at least one part of their body that they wished were different…bigger, smaller, more shapely, perkier, rounder, tighter, flatter, whatever.

For me, I always had one wish. Just one.

I wanted to be skinny.

To me, being “skinny” was the be all and end all of my time on this Earth. It was my life’s dream. It was the culmination of so many of my most innermost desires…from walking into any clothing store and zipping a pair of jeans without having to lie on the dirty dressing room floor to wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress like all the other girls to my eighth grade dance (I ended up in a size 20 gown that was surely designed for a 50+ year old woman).

To me, being skinny meant I might actually be able to make — and keep — a close circle of friends, and stop assuming they were embarrassed to be seen with “the fat girl.” All throughout my childhood, I fantasized about how being skinny might finally put a stop to the bullying and humiliation I faced on a daily basis.

I really did think that being skinny would be my key to happiness…and that it would solve every problem I could ever have in my life. Some people dream of scoring high-paying jobs, falling in love, starting a family. All I ever cared about was what it would be like to wear a size 4.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my wish, and how, even after a 90-pound weight loss, it never did come true. I am not skinny. I am confident now that I never will be. No matter how much more weight I lose, I will never be the kind of woman who can strip down at the beach wearing little more than a washcloth. I will never be able to leave the house in a short skirt. I will never be able to emanate that inner confidence of someone who hasn’t suffered from extreme body image issues for the majority of her life. It’s just not in the cards for me.

But I’ve come to a realization. I really, truly, do not care about being skinny anymore. And I think that has a lot to do with how I finally managed to lose — and maintain — my weight loss (which, as an aside, has not solved all of my life’s problems).

Truth be told, I’m ashamed and saddened that for so many years I allowed my entire sense of self-worth to be wrapped up in the number stitched into the tag on my jeans, or what my romanticized ideal of a skinny, “perfect” body looked like. I’m also ashamed for the way I abused and mistreated myself — I had such low self-esteem that I essentially poisoned my body with milkshakes and bacon cheeseburgers for years. I like to tell myself that at age 12, or 15, or 21, I didn’t know any better…but, let’s face it, I knew exactly what I was doing.

It took 26 years to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect body (for those of us who aren’t celebrities or Victoria’s Secret models, anyway), and in order for me to achieve something that even comes close to the “skinny” physique I coveted, I’d probably have to consume 800 calories a day and spend three hours in the gym every night. Oh, and that’s not to mention that pesky tummy tuck and loose skin removal surgery I’d need to rid my body of any evidence that I used to weigh 260 pounds.

Today, I can look at the mirror and see my imperfections — the stretch marks, the loose skin, the cellulite and all — and be content. I can see myself in photos — even when I’m wearing little more than a flimsy cotton dress — and feel pride. I’m pretty okay with the person I see staring back at me these days. Honestly, I would be tickled to remain a size 8/10 for the rest of my life.

I’m not saying I love every inch of my body, but what I have come to realize is that I’ve finally reached a place where I can appreciate my body…and what it’s capable of doing. I may not have the perfect body, but what I do have is my body — and I’ll be damned if I ever take it for granted again.

I see people all the time who are disabled or ill, or I read about former athletes who sustained one injury and are now relegated to the sidelines forever. It forces me to put things in perspective: how could I hate a body that is healthy? A body that is whole? A body that is strong? I can run 5Ks and go for 10-mile bike rides whenever the urge strikes. I can walk all over Walt Disney World (my happy place!) for days and experience little more than sore feet. I know now that I am one of the lucky ones — I escaped a lifetime of obesity without diabetes or heart problems or any of the long list of diseases associated with being overweight. I feel blessed and fortunate for every day that I can climb a flight of stairs or walk my dog or lift groceries or do any of the things I can do as a healthy, average-sized person.

While I appreciate the “you look great!” compliments I still get every now and then, I am genuinely overwhelmed with emotion when I cross the finish line of a race, or am complimented by classmates for my “bad-ass” roundhouse in my Muay Thai kickboxing class. To me, discovering something that I love to do, and recognizing how my body — exactly the way it is — allows me to do it has forced me to realize that maybe having larger-than-average thighs isn’t really the end of the world.

I truly believe that’s the key to body acceptance: realizing how your body allows you to do the things you love, and understanding that there’s more to you than a number on a scale or an idealized dress size. If you have the ability to chase your kids around the backyard or practice yoga or lace up your sneakers and go for a walk whenever you feel like it, I’d say that’s something to celebrate.

So I’ll continue to eat as healthy as possible, and take vitamins, and exercise daily, and slather on sunscreen, and drink plenty of water, and avoid smoking (always) and drinking (most of the time)…and I’ll never take my body for granted again.

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Letting Go of the “Old Me”

I have a confession to make. Prior to this weekend, I hadn’t weighed myself since before the holidays. And by holidays, I mean Thanksgiving.

These past few months have included some of the the most defining moments of my life — not the least of which was finally moving out of my parents’ house.

For years I have struggled with self-doubt when it came to both my weight loss and my writing career. I think it’s a fair claim to make that living under your parents’ roof in the post-college years somehow intensifies the inner turmoil that’s typically associated with the quarter-life crisis. But for me, self-confidence and the belief that I am actually capable of success — whether in the form of reaching my weight loss goals or landing assignments in my dream magazines — have always seemed just out of reach.

I have dreamed of being a writer since I was in the second grade. Interestingly enough, that was also the year when I suddenly found myself at the receiving end of the bullying that would continue until the day I received my high school diploma. In an era where my cruelest high school foes are just a click away on Facebook, I tend to avoid writing about my painful childhood years here, but I feel as though I can’t fully express the victory I experienced this weekend without at least a mention of my past.

Of course, I was teased and tormented because I happened to weigh more than just about everyone else in my class, and to this day I attribute my constant need to drown my emotions in food — and my inability to see myself as worthy of success — to my years of being bullied by my classmates…and, on many occasions, even those I considered my closest friends.

This weekend, I returned to a Weight Watchers meeting and stepped on the scale for the first time in months — and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was showing a loss of .4 pounds.

After over a decade of gaining and losing 20 pounds here or 60 pounds there, or having to sneak to the mall to buy bigger pants every couple of months, I realized that after months of holiday hooplah, a Florida vacation, and a move to my first apartment, I am actually succeeding at maintaining my weight.

For the first time in my life, I felt…cured.

I could have easily emerged from these past few months carrying around an extra 20 pounds, but instead, I realized that I have finally learned the secret to maintaining my weight loss…and that I have genuinely achieved what I once thought impossible. I am a healthy, active person now.

As my own worst critic, it’s often hard for me to recognize my own accomplishments, but to continue following my usual eating and workout routine despite weeks of skipped weigh-ins and the overwhelming task of having to pack 26 years of my belongings (and all the not-so-good memories associated with them) into boxes — and to come out in the end of it all maintaining almost the exact same weight — forced me to realize once and for all that while the old Jen still lives inside of me somewhere, I am, truly, an entirely different person. I no longer need the specter of a weekly weigh-in to keep me in check. I am enough.

I know I’ll have to work hard for the rest of my life not to give in to my old ways. I’ve accepted that the struggles with my weight aren’t going anywhere. I definitely succumbed to some of my former habits this weekend, as I was surrounded by hearty St. Patrick’s Day fare and festive green cocktails, but the difference now is that I know a day or two of not-so-great food choices or skipped workouts are not going to be enough to bring me down.

I no longer let the slip-ups that would have once completely derailed whatever diet I was on at the time make me feel like a failure. I’m living proof that allowing one mistake — like, say, avoiding the scale for weeks on end — to undo all of your hard work is all you need to send you right back to where you started.

I’ve even been pitching my dream magazines lately, and though I’m often faced with rejections — or, worse, a wall of complete silence — I’m starting to acknowledge myself as someone who can succeed as a writer. All I have to do is not give up.

I may not be at my goal weight, and I may not have bylines in all the newsstand magazines, but I’m slowly but surely starting to believe that I can reach my goals.

I’ve finally learned how to pick myself up when I fall, and not let my past dictate my future. The holiday season, family vacations, paying rent for the first time (not to mention having to cook all of my own meals!), and other life events are no longer powerful enough to send me to the refrigerator. I am finally in control.

And that, I believe, is truly the key to losing weight…and keeping it off.

 

 

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Keeping My Own Promises

When you’re trying to adopt healthy living habits, I truly believe that success can boil down to just one factor:

The ability to make a commitment, and actually stick to it.

Now, this is not something for which I’m traditionally known. I’m shamelessly of the “I’ll finish it later” variety who starts a project only to abandon it halfway through (the disaster zone known as my bedroom is proof positive of that one).

Of course, when it comes to family, friends, and work, I always fulfill my commitments…but when it comes to doing something for myself, it’s always been a different story.

These days, I’m working hard to make myself a priority, which means setting a goal or promising myself that I will do something (yes, even if it means learning how to keep my room clean), and then doing it. No matter what.

Maybe my current vigor for keeping my own promises to myself is the result of my still very fresh New Year’s Resolution mindset, especially since I silently made just one very important promise as the ball was dropping on December 31, 2011.

I vowed that this would be the year I finish what I start. No matter what it is, I need to learn to commit to something and follow through. Whether it’s that half-finished query letter to my dream magazine that’s been taking up space on my hard drive for six months, or the fact that I once made it as far as 93 pounds lost and yet still never managed to hit that 100-pound mark, this is going to be the year that I muster enough confidence in myself and my abilities to set a goal and see it through to the very end.

That’s why on a rainy, miserable Tuesday this week, I decided it was a fine time to go for a run. As I declared in my last blog post, I’m madly in love with exercising outdoors, but the winter months certainly present some unique challenges. I can brave the cold, but the rain is usually enough to make me slip out of my running tights and vow to save my workout for another day — heaven forbid my new sneakers get wet!

But not this time. I made a promise that if Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday are my kickboxing days, that Tuesday was going to be one reserved for running. I’ve let my training regimen slack off quite a bit since completing my last 5K back in November, and I started to fear that my running career would become a thing of the past if I didn’t get back to business ASAP.

So when I woke up Tuesday morning to the sound of rain pelting against my window, I promised myself that I was going to suck it up and lace up my sneakers that afternoon — even if there was a monsoon waiting for me outside that door.

And I have to say, even though it was the smallest of goals, actually heading out into the rain that day (with my snazzy new waterproof running jacket) still felt pretty damn good…if not a tad wet.

I’ve learned that’s really all that leading a healthy lifestyle is about: making a commitment to go to the gym, or to eat more veggies, or to run through the rain like a maniac, and then actually doing it.

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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 Right to Bare Arms (and Stomach, and Thighs…)

As the summer months officially come to an end, I decided it was finally time to step back on the scale.

And, unsurprisingly, I was greeted by an additional five pounds.

It’s what I was expecting, given my week-long jaunts in Vegas, Atlantic City, and Orlando, the endless string of barbecues and late-night fro-yo runs, my less-than-rigid workout routine. Now that I’m back into the swing of things — my long-awaited return to Weight Watchers, first and foremost — I’m fully confident that I’ll ditch those extra pounds (and then some) in no time.

That’s what still continues to amaze me. For the first time in my life, if I see the number on the scale nudge up a bit, I don’t panic. I don’t say “the hell with it” and start eating everything in sight, as I’ve done so many times in the past. I simply chalk it up to a few (okay, maybe more than a few) poor eating choices and lackluster workouts, and I pledge to get back on track ASAP.

I can finally acknowledge that I’m strong enough to lose (and re-lose) weight. I believe in myself. Who knew?

The truth is, this summer marked a whole new leg of my weight loss journey…even if I didn’t actually lose any weight. Whether the scale is moving or not, it seems nearly every day I’m slapped with a new realization about my body and just how much has changed.

Yesterday, for example, on a somewhat chilly afternoon that didn’t exactly warrant capri pants, I was amazed to pick up a pair of jeans from last year and easily slip them on. No lying on the bathroom floor trying fruitlessly to yank the zipper up, no jamming my rolls of flesh into the too-tight waistband, or rubbing raw indentations in my stomach after I removed them. I stepped right in, zipped them up, and was on my way.

And all this after so many years of having to buy a larger size for school every September, or sheepishly “losing” last season’s jeans, or — I’m ashamed to admit — destroying more pairs of pants than I can count when my denial about needing a larger size led to popped buttons or seams that blew open.

For the third September in a row, I’ve been able to re-wear clothes from the previous year, and that, to me, is an ultimate victory.

But this summer, perhaps my greatest achievement is that — for the first time in my 26 years of existence — I was confident enough to sport a bikini top at the beach.

Now, before you get too excited, let me preface this by stating that I had to search far and wide for a top with the extra coverage I still craved (athletic-style suits did the trick!), and I still felt the need to camouflage my generous thighs and loose, stretch-marked paunch with a high-rise skirted bottom. But who cares? I’ve worked hard for the body I have at this very moment — even if it isn’t “perfect” — and I don’t care who sees it.

Then there’s the fact that it’s almost surreal to me to do a load of laundry and fold my size small — SIZE SMALL! — tank tops from Old Navy. My summer uniform once consisted of baggy t-shirts or short-sleeved polos hidden beneath cardigan sweaters, for fear that anyone should catch so much as a glimpse of one of my behemoth, saggy arms. I sometimes can’t believe that I’ll slip into a strapless dress or racerback running tank and walk out the door without a second thought. My Muy Thai uniform is sleeveless, and where I would once be mortified to be waving my bare arms around for all the world to see, now I can look in the mirror — even at my loose tricep skin — and accept the way my arms look. Sometimes, at just the right angle, I think they even look pretty strong and muscular.

Oh, and then there’s the small detail that I ran not one, but two races this summer. And I already have a few other 5Ks lined up for the fall. At my very first race, a four-miler on the Fourth of July, I met my goal of jogging the entire course. Granted, I wasn’t the fastest runner, but it didn’t matter — I gathered up my courage and was able to squash my self-doubt long enough to cross that finish line, and I’ll be damned if I let 10-minute miles spoil that.

Did I mention that I even had the audacity to wear shorts to that race? Me, good old “Thunder Thighs,” wearing shorts. In public! Oh, the humanity.

Bikinis, shorts, tank tops — and, certainly, running races — were things I never thought possible. I was, after all, a 22-year-old shopping in the Women’s Plus section for swimsuits, and constantly pretending I was cold to justify wearing long sleeves or ankle-length capris in August. There was a time not too long ago that I couldn’t run a single mile without gasping for air, and now I’m breezing through 5Ks as if it’s completely normal for me to be running alongside other athletes.

Believe it or not, I am slowly but surely beginning to accept my body. I know I’m by no means thin, and I never will be. Maybe I have no business baring so much of my body at the beach or flapping my batwings in kickboxing classes, but for the first time in my life, I’m not constantly obsessing over how every little inch of my body looks at every moment of the day.

My tummy flap and jiggly thighs are clearly here to stay, and I’m finally making peace with the fact that I will never have the “perfect” body, no matter how much more weight I lose.

But guess what? I think I might just be perfectly fine with that.

The important thing is that my weight is no longer holding me back from anything I want to do or achieve in my life, and I’m excited to see just what else I can accomplish on my journey.

With or without the cooperation of a scale.

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I am Runner, Hear Me Roar.

When it comes to our diets, there are a few hard and fast rules that will help just about everyone drop a dress size. You know, like eat more celery and less Cheetos.

But when it comes to the day-to-day decision to break a sweat — because, let’s face it, there is no lasting weight loss without physical activity — I believe that every person is a little different.

For example, I have trouble mustering the energy to exercise in the evenings, while others wouldn’t dream of rolling out of bed at 5:30am to hit the gym. Some people like to tone up with yoga or Pilates, while I prefer to pant through a run or a grueling kickboxing session. While some can push through several hours of strength training at the gym (insane Biggest Loser contenders, I’m looking at you), it may not work for all of us. I’m lucky to be able to carve out 45 minutes for a sweat session 5-6 times a week, and some people get away with far less. And that’s perfectly fine.

That being said, I think there is one workout rule that applies to every single person looking to lose the weight and keep it off. And that is this: you must make fitness a part of your identity. If you want to truly commit to a regular exercise routine, I don’t think you can just pencil in a 30-minute walk four times a week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great start — but I think it takes more than a calendar appointment to make exercise a part of your life.

I strongly believe you need to find something that you love to do. It has to be something you can latch onto strongly enough that you won’t let bad weather or family responsibilities or work schedules or anything else stand in your way. I’ve been known to run in the rain, and have attempted to maneuver my car though six inches of snow to make my Muy Thai kickboxing class.

I recently returned from a vacation (Disney World!) where I gave myself permission to eat anything I wanted — ice cream, cookies, cheeseburgers, you name it. While traipsing through theme parks for six days is physically demanding, it was still nothing like my usual running/spinning/kickboxing regimen. So, big surprise here: I returned home to pants that suddenly fit a little more snugly. I was hungry all the time, and feeling way too lethargic to hit the track.

Because of my lack of exercise and unhealthy eating all week, I didn’t feel motivated or energetic…but most surprisingly, I didn’t feel like me.

That’s when I realized how much working out has become part of my identity. It has consumed my life in so many ways that without a daily bout of exercise — even if I miss less than a week — I suddenly start feeling like a completely different person. It’s truly humbling to realize that, before my weight loss, I used to feel this way all the time.

If I were to draft a list of all the qualities that make up who I am, “physically active” would be  right at the top. My being can no longer be summed up by my gender or what I do for a living. I’m also a runner and a purple belt.

I think my overzealousness at the gym in my earliest weeks of weight loss paid off in more ways than a scale could ever show. I quickly became a fixture on that elliptical machine, and it wasn’t long before people started calling me by name…and asking about me when I didn’t show up. That’s when I realized that others saw me as something of a gym rat, and that fueled me with the motivation to get stronger and tougher and fitter. I wanted to live up to that new perception of who I was.

When I started running, at first I considered it nothing more than a fast way to torch as many calories as possible in a short period of time. But it wasn’t long before I got bored with the monotony of pounding a treadmill. When I started looking at running as more than a weight loss technique, that’s when the habit really started to stick. I subscribed to Runner’s World.  I strapped on a Garmin sports watch.  I signed up for 5K races.  Suddenly, I was a “runner.” And now I can’t wait to lace up my Nikes.

I’m often asked to divulge the number of times I work out each week. But an active lifestyle is so much more than the hours you spend on a treadmill. It’s just way too easy to lose interest in working out and return right back to your favorite position on the couch. I should know…I work at a gym.

I tend to shy away from making all-knowing proclamations on this blog, but I truly believe that the only way to make fitness a lasting part of your life is to make it part of who you are.

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Fake it ‘Til You Make It: Running My First 5K

I did it again! After running my first four-miler on the Fourth of July — and proving to myself that I didn’t die or, worse, come in dead last — I finally had the courage to run my first 5K. And, appropriately, it just so happened to be the 10th Annual Downtown Westfield 5k and Pizza Extravaganza…meaning there was gooey, cheesy pizza (and cookies!) awaiting us at the finish line. Now if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

Even though this race was a shorter distance than my last, mentally, it proved much tougher than I anticipated. I’ve been putting off registering for a 5K for years now, always assuming that I was still too fat to run a race and that I’d just make a fool of myself amongst the “real” runners. That’s why despite the fact that New Jersey is in the midst of a brutal heat wave, and the sticky 90+ degree temperatures have been making movement of any kind utterly unbearable, I knew this race was something I had to do. I also knew that my running sneakers are in desperate need of replacing — which was evidenced by the blister I earned in mile two — and that I haven’t been running as often since I became addicted to kickboxing and spinning.

In the end, though, it wasn’t the sweat pouring down my face or the stinging pain of a newly-formed blister that I had to overcome: it was myself. I had to once again go head-to-head with the old Jen, who had no qualms about telling me that I couldn’t run a real, official 5K race, and that I didn’t really belong there.

That’s when the mantra that my Muay Thai Kickboxing instructor constantly barks to newbies — “Fake it ’til you make it!” — started running through my mind. Maybe I wouldn’t meet my goal of beating my average 10-minute miles this time (I definitely didn’t), and maybe I didn’t look as good crossing the finish line as some of the more seasoned runners, but with time and training (and some new kicks), I can and will become better and stronger and faster.

I decided right then and there that, for now, I’m going to continue to break the bank on the latest running sneakers and slap on GPS-enabled sports watches and don cute, colorful racerback tanks — and totally fake it.

Last night, when I showed up in my snazzy new running duds, I took a look around at the other runners. Sure, there were a handful of men and women with ripped runners’ bodies who looked as though they escaped the womb wearing Nike Airs. But then there were the children and the senior citizens. There were runners who were tall and lanky, and ones who were short and stocky. There were runners wearing knee braces, and mothers pushing baby carriages. And suddenly I found myself peering down at my own body, which despite its blatant faults (ahem, batwings) has gotten pretty strong and muscular in the last three years…and realized that I fit right in.

I forced myself to remember that I’ve worked hard for this moment, and I that I had every right to revel in the joy of crossing that finish line. I truly believe as though I’ve been given a second chance on life, and running a 5K is just one way to celebrate the new me and the kind of future I never thought possible.

This thought wasn’t lost to me as I pounded the pavement amongst thousands of runners and realized that I never, ever thought I could be an athlete. Yet there I was, a former obese woman whose idea of exercise was once racing into the kitchen to sneak another sleeve of Thin Mints, and I was keeping pace with people who have been working out and pushing their bodies to accomplish incredible feats for most of their lives.

Of course there are still the little things that wreak havoc on my self-confidence, like the loose skin on my inner thighs slapping together in my running shorts, or the fact that I only managed to eke out painfully slow 11-minute miles for a finishing time of 33:03.

But as long as I never lose sight of the journey I’ve had, and keep upholding my commitment to live a healthy, active life — by signing up for more races! — I’m confident that someday I won’t have to fake being a runner. I’ll just be one.

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