On this October Friday morning, here’s a thought that has kept many of us in the game just long enough to realize that staying in the game is the game:
The best research out there on long-term weight loss tells us that those of us who reach our weight goal and maintain it for the long term tried more than once to lose weight. That makes perfect sense to me; we were learning as we went along. But somewhere along the road, we gave up. Then, further on down that road, we came back to it. This is normal.
But it’s also normal to say, you know what? I’m going to stay in the game. That’s what it takes to finally make your dreams come true. I still remember in my first month of Weight Watchers meetings, thinking to myself “I will not quit, no matter what.” Did I lose weight every single week? Not even close. Was I always thrilled to be there? Nope. Was I sometimes jealous of friends who seemed to not have weight problems? Of course.
The key to everything good that’s happened in my life in the last six years is that I stopped giving up. I showed up and did what I could do. Sometimes that plan worked out awesomely, and sometimes it was a little more on the “meh” side, but the bottom line is that I made a conscious decision that giving up was no longer an option.
It’s a variation on the “no safety nets” rule that many entrepreneurs follow. If you have a safety net, there’s the potential that you won’t have the kind of intensity and focus that you need in order to really build your business. There will always be the “safe thing” to do. And it can keep you from having the creativity to figure out how to make things work. Having a safety net makes a lot of sense in some situations (if your family depends on your income, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend risking your life savings, for example). But the safety net of saying “Well, I’ll give this fitness program a few weeks and see how it goes” and then dropping off…or that weight-loss program…or that graduate degree…Well, I think it just doesn’t get us anywhere.
What gets us from there to here, and beyond, is showing up, not giving up. And that’s the thought I want to leave you with this Friday morning. Have a great workout today. See you next week.
Yesterday’s Every48 workout: Nothing strenuous, but an hour in my community garden spent taking down tomato plants and beginning to get my plot ready for winter. A blissful hour to start the day outdoors.
Sometimes, especially when I’ve had, say, a situation or two to solve on the previous day, or week (or worse: when it feels like everything is hitting the fan), I have a hard time remembering how much progress I’ve made in my health. That’s when I play the “One Year Ago” game.
It’s pretty simple. Ask yourself one simple question: Where were you a year ago? Take notes. Pay attention. Realize how much you’ve accomplished and grown. That makes moving forward with today’s challenges much easier, because in your heart, you know you can do it, because you’ve already done it before.
We sometimes forget how much we change and grow, because it all happens so gradually. One time I played the game with a friend who realized that even though she was still in the process of losing a significant amount of weight, she was thirty pounds lighter than she had been one year earlier, and she had forgotten to give herself credit for that amazing achievement.
So in the spirit of looking back, today’s Throwback Thursday post is the one that launched Every48 last year. Things are better today, almost ten months later, even when things go a little haywire. Today’s a day when remembering that is helping me. My wish for you today is that it helps you as well.
Every 48 hours, a workout. For a year.
[Originally published on December 28, 2013.]
I’m here to test a theory and to document the effort. I think exercise is medicine. I’m not the only one – it’s a movement spearheaded by the American College of Sports Medicine (http://exerciseismedicine.org/) to encourage all health professionals to review every patient’s personal exercise program as part of their routine medical care, because we’re seeing more and more evidence every day that regular, vigorous exercise is a game-changer for health as we age. A bunch of scientific literature has led us down this path – summarized nicely in books like Younger Next Year and its spinoff titles (I’m a fan – they’re fun reads). And I’m slightly obsessed with thinking about what comes next, for all of us on this particular journey.
I’m a modest weight-loss success story, as these things go – no extreme before-and-after photos here, just thirty to forty less pounds (depending on, ahem, my activity level) on this body than were there five years ago. And it’s a big thirty to forty pounds – my BMI hovers around 22 now (down from 28, solidly in the “overweight” range) and my clothing sizes look about right for my height. I’m not skin and bones and never will be – but I’m healthy, way healthier than I was when this all started a few years ago.
So, what’s next?
What’s next is that even though my weight has stayed off pretty much this whole time, I’ve been in a mental rut for the past couple of years. Been there, done that, got the marathon PR (personal record) and the half-marathon PR (a speeeeeeedy one for this former turtle) – and then got on the Rut-Go-Round and somehow lost my mojo to improve as an athlete and really nail my most comfortable year-round weight. Except when I’m at my leanest (I call it “race weight” because that’s when 5K’s fly by), I feel like I’m always slightly “off,” eating just a little more here or there, not being active enough, letting the head get cloudy now and then with sedentary turtle-like behaviors. Like watching TV late at night and being amazed when a munchie suddenly jumps into my mouth. Hmmmm.
Then I remembered: everything in my life in the last five years has gone its best when I was really active. Not “Olympic athlete” active (that level of activity isn’t healthy – the Olympians would be the first to tell you that). Not “PR in every race” active. But, solidly, at least four days a week of cardiovascular activity – the stuff that makes your heart beat fast enough that you can’t say more than a few words at a time – for an hour, give or take.
So, here we are.
It’s December 26, 2013 and it’s time to ring in the New Year with a plan. This is #every48. Every 48 hours for the next year of my life, I will commit to doing at least one hour of vigorous cardio activity. I’ll log it here. And at the end of the year, we’ll see where we are: weight, health, marathons (yes, there’s a big goal still stalking me in that category), all of the important blood tests and other markers of health – and the one nobody can measure except ourselves: true wellness.
I’ll be here to tell the tale. What happens on the days when I’m tired? When I can’t get to the gym and it’s raining? When I don’t “feel like it”? That doesn’t matter. Every 48 hours, minimum, I’ll be moving hard for an hour.
How about you?
[And back to real time: October 16, 2014.]
Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A fabulous RUN on the treadmill, early. I was done by 8:40 a.m., and my goal for the remainder of this year is to get as many workouts in before 8 a.m. as I can, because it makes all the difference in my day. (Treadmill note: it was raining outside and I needed to do a speed workout. I am not ashamed to admit that I can’t stand running in the rain. Blech.) Anyway, I digress. The workout was 6 repeats of 800 meters at a solid tempo pace for my upcoming December marathon – five miles total distance with warmup, cool down, and 2-minute walking breaks in between each 800-meter repeat. Total time: 50 minutes. What it gave me yesterday: great energy to get through the day.
Yesterday I wrote about a great race this past weekend in Victoria, B.C., where I basically solidified the notion in my head that I now have a “new normal” when it comes to fitness and health. It used to be that something like a two-hour half-marathon was a pipe dream. Then after good training and a solid weight loss, it became attainable, and then it became – pow! – a barrier to crash through. These days, my “new normal” in the half-marathon is almost ten minutes faster than that original goal.
But there is a downside to the new normal, and here it is: It’s hard not to feel sad for “the lost years.”
When you start taking care of yourself and figuring out what you’re capable of, there is the ever so slightly small possibility that you might just think of all the times in life you didn’t take care of yourself…didn’t fulfill your promise…didn’t do the things you were capable of doing.
That time is now water under the bridge. We can’t get it back. And as much as we can celebrate the awesomeness of the here-and-now, there’s a possibility that we’ll also start mourning a loss: a loss we didn’t even know we had until we got healthy.
That’s where I was yesterday, two days after that solid 13.1 miles in Victoria. I was in a place where I suddenly remembered the times when I didn’t do what was healthiest and best, when I decided not to go for big goals (in fitness, and in life), when I decided that what I couldn’t do (a limit that I, of course, decided for myself) was going to be a barrier to what I might be able to do if I just went for it.
And that meant it was all a little bit sad.
What I’ve learned, time and time again, is that everything is material. Everything is relevant. Everything is here and now. There is no “lost time.” There are all of the experiences that got us from there to here. And without those experiences, we wouldn’t be “here.”
We could spend our lives comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. I know several stunningly successful people, when you look at them from the outside. The cars, the houses, the vacations. What a life! But honestly, do I know what they struggle with? Not at all. And everyone – everyone – struggles with something.
It’s at times like this, when I want to fall down the rabbit hole of wishing I had gotten my health together earlier in life and mourning the lost years, that it’s crucial to remember we are the sum of all of our experiences. We have learned all that we have learned in life precisely because of those experiences.
So, how about turning “mourning” into “mining”?
I admit it: I got this idea when I couldn’t sleep last night. What if we turn it all around and say, what lessons can I “mine” from those years I’ve been dubbing “the lost years” all of this time? What lessons have I learned? What’s really been going on?
Well, I’ve learned that my body takes instructions well. If I feed it healthfully and exercise once every 48 hours or so, making sure to really work hard most of the time (while still taking time for yoga and stretching and meditation and quietness, too), my body will generally respond very well. As long as I’m being completely, honestly authentic and real with myself about what I’m doing. I spent a bit of time back in late 2008 and early 2009 thinking I was doing all the right things but I still wasn’t losing weight, for example. But it turned out I really did need to learn to fine-tune my food portions, and my food groups. (No, ice cream is not a food group. Bummer.) I had to learn how to cook vegetables so that I would actually want to eat them. I had to learn that this was not a fix-it-quick operation, that a lifetime of eating not so very well couldn’t be undone with a one-week menu plan and an exercise set from a fitness magazine. It was going to take work.
But oh, how it’s been worth it. Even when things go haywire, I can rely on my habits to more or less get me through.
So that’s the work of today, and maybe for a few more days too: Mining lessons learned, instead of mourning the lost years. They’re not lost. They were there for a reason. I hope this idea helps you today.
Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A nice BIKE ride at the gym. My usual moderate ride when my legs are fatigued from a hard running workout: five minutes of warmup, followed by 15 minutes of spinning at 90 RPMs, five minutes of easy spinning, another 15 minutes at 90 RPMs, and five more minutes easy spinning. 45 minutes total. (This is one of the cross-training workouts from the excellent book Run Less Run Faster, by the way.)
First up: a new race report! After a summer of not being able to run very much due to what I initially thought was a knee problem but that turned out to be “lazy quadriceps” in my right leg that just needed a bit of strengthening, I ran my first race since early June on Sunday. And It Was Okay. A bit better than okay, actually – 1:51 and change for a half-marathon in Victoria, BC, just up the road (as the crow flies and the Victoria Clipper sails) from Seattle. What’s cool: I haven’t been able to train a whole lot, and that time is massively “okay” for this time of year, no matter what. And I ran a 7:23 mile last week while still fighting this cold (I mentioned I had a cold, yes?)…and, well, again, not too shabby.
And that brings me to…
The Big Picture
Now that I’m almost ten months into this first initial idea of exercising hard, once every 48 hours of the year, and seeing where it’s worked and where it’s been less than perfect once in a while, I’m starting to get it. This is about reaching a new normal. A new normal is a world where I can run 1:51 for 13 miles without having to kill myself in training, because my base fitness is “all there.” A new normal is running a 7:23 mile when I’m still sniffling from a cold (not completely recommended, but I was soooooo cabin feverish last week after two weeks fighting this that I needed to get in a track workout). A new normal is my weight being a pound or two lower than usual for this time of year, and my checking in with myself about it, and saying, yes. This feels better. It’s a small and subtle thing, but it feels good.
Fitness on a regular basis – and yes, accompanied by decent nutrition and rest habits – brings our bodies and minds to a new normal. We know what to do when we feel sluggish. We exercise. We know what to do when we’ve had too much to eat. We go for a walk and plan our next healthy meal. We don’t fall apart at the seams when things go haywire. We more or less know what to do in order to stay healthy, more or less all of the time.
It’s such a huge change in mindset, thinking back to six years ago this month when I had to slink into a consignment shop in Seattle to buy work pants in a size I’d never had to buy before (six sizes larger than I am today). By the time I finally realized I had to figure out how to take care of myself, or risk a lifetime of health issues, those too-big pants had gotten so tight that the seam on the inside lining had split.
But within weeks of committing to eating more healthfully and exercising more intensely, the pants were looser, my belts got more interesting (first by needing them in the first place, then by being able to pull them just a little tighter every few weeks), and moving around started to feel…easier. Not by a ton, and not all at once. But gradually? Yes. Because I focused on what I could do that day, and not on what I couldn’t? Yes. And it’s all stuck around, these changes, so much so that six years later, the new normal is that I can run a half-marathon in an hour and 51 minutes on next to no recent running-specific training due to a summer injury, and with a cold. That, too.
When I was losing weight, I dreamed of breaking two hours for the half-marathon. That was the “normal,” the benchmark. Then I crashed through that goal, running 1:55 in Philadelphia five years ago. Then I ran a 1:52 soon after that. And then, on one glorious early-spring day in 2011, a 1:46. Whoa. The “new normal” is 1:50. That’s my new two-hour barrier. I should be able to run sub-1:50 or close to it, most of the time. (My Garmin at 13.1 miles on Sunday registered a 1:50:25 or so; I didn’t run all the race tangents so wound up running 13.22 miles. Yes, we runners love our statistics.)
This is what exercising regularly gives us. A base level of fitness we can call on 24/7, even when things aren’t perfect, even when we want to throw in the towel. Now I can jump into a race and say, well, let’s go for it and see what happens. Then a couple of hours later I’ve got a finisher’s medal slung over my shoulder and I’m happily walking home hand in hand with my husband, who’s come out to cheer me as I surge (or crawl) to yet another finish line. We stop to take a picture at the totem pole near the entrance to a local museum in downtown Victoria. I grab a container of chocolate milk from a race volunteer. (Chocolate Milk: Best. Post-Run Drink. Ever.)
And then we walk the rest of the way back to where we’re staying, shower, munch on a bagel and bananas, and watch football together all afternoon.
This is the new normal. This is what exercise every 48 hours of life looks like, give or take a day now and then. This is good.
Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A lovely, long WALK in Victoria along the harbor. Lots and lots of walking. Great post-race gentle workout.
[One more reblog today because we're on the move. A great race report coming tomorrow, plus thoughts on the Big Picture (or, why this Every48 experiment appears to be working). The post below was first published at Every48 on February 28, 2014, and it's still way, way relevant more than ten months into this journey as it was in Month Number Two.]
Saw this on a list of “top fitness mantras” at Greatist.com recently:
It’s the start that stops most people.
And it instantly jumped to the top of the queue on my all-time list of greatest fitness memes, because, oh, it hit a nerve.
There’s a difference between what we think we’re doing, and what we’re actually doing, especially when it comes to taking care of ourselves. That’s how a Kaiser Permanente study funded by the National Institutes of Health discovered that just by asking people to write down what they were eating – without any particular goal or direction for that exercise – they lost significantly more weight than if they did not write down what they were eating.
The study found that the best predictors of weight loss were how frequently food diaries were kept and how many support sessions the participants attended. Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.
This blog came about in part because I finally copped to the fact that I was exercising a whole lot less than I wanted to believe I was. I even put little stickers and notes on a calendar to reward myself for my workouts, but somehow, I didn’t feel all that worried or concerned when a week would go by with one or two workouts listed. Somehow I had convinced myself that I was “athletic” because I’d run some good races back in 2011 after finally conquering a lifelong weight issue and reaching a normal weight for my height and build, which I’ve maintained now for four and a half years.
But something was, ahem, missing. Drive. Consistency. Passion. I came within a hair of notching an official qualifying time for the Boston Marathon – my lifelong athletic dream – and somehow got the spooks. I haven’t run that well since. So, this blog was born: for accountability, for inspiring others, and for trying to figure out if something as simple as an Internet-style meme or mantra – “every 48″ – could help me realign the stars and get going. And it has.
As of today, I’ve logged 17 vigorous workouts in February – and the run I take today after finishing this blog post will be number 18. I like stats like that. (I also like the stat about how this blog’s audience has grown in just the first two months of its existence – so great to see so many friends checking it out – and then gettin’ after it!)
What it all comes down to is this:
Remove the obstacles.
Just get them out of the way. Write down what you’re doing. Be accountable. Put your workout clothes out the night before. Or if you’re really a badass, sleep in them so you jump out the door the next morning. I am only slightly kidding here.
Whatever you have to do in order to get in that every48 workout, just do it. Start. Suffer for 15 minutes and your endorphins will start to kick in and you’ll feel like a new person. It takes me just about that much time to get it going, to feel like I want to be out there. And then, there’s nothing better.
Here are a few more resources for that NIH-funded study on weight loss and writing down what you eat. I bet it works for exercise, too. <Grin>
MedlinePlus summary of the findings and recommendations for healthy eating
Yesterday’s Every48 workout: The Victoria (B.C.) Half-Marathon. Full race report tomorrow. Considering the Lazy Quadriceps Drama of 2014 (not to mention a nasty cold these past two and a half weeks), it was officially Okay. More to come tomorrow.
[Originally published on August 8, 2014. Reblogged today because it's awesome.]
“Everything is material.” This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given on how to sort through our memories, experiences, and especially our regrets. Today’s fitness meme comes from Twyla Tharp again – and her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is just about required reading for me now, every day, as I work towards my new dreams.
Here’s why this thought really inspires me when it comes to fitness and health. Part of me is blissfully happy to be 42 years old and super-healthy for the first time in my adult life. And yet, part of me is sad for what I call “the lost years”: the times before I got healthy when I wished I could be different, but didn’t know how to navigate my way out of the box that says “I can’t.”
But when everything is material, we can look back and understand and have perspective on things. And we might just realize that we needed to go through what we went through to get to where we are today.
That’s not just about fitness. Sure, it’s incredibly cool that I can run faster today than I did when I was 21 years old. I love that. But if I allow myself to feel sad for the lost years, it can sometimes take my focus off “what’s next?” and bring me back to a time when things were harder. That can become a funk, and that can become a downward spiral. So instead, today I choose to say “Everything is raw material,” and build from there.
Or, in other words, just do whatever you can do, for as long as you can do it.
Can you sense a trend in the last few posts at Every48? I sure can. September was a funny month for being active: I didn’t exercise the way I wanted to, and had a layoff from running due to a fairly serious cold and cough. It’s taken a little more than a little effort to get back out there (and I’m not 100% yet in the health division, so I’m doing whatever I can do, however I can do it). I love the idea of just doing whatever you can do for exercise. Whether you call it the Better Than Nothing workout, “doing the workout you’re actually going to do,” or “downward puppy dog,” the concept is really simple: Do what you can do. Right now. Today. Don’t put it off. Your body will like it, and it will tell you by asking you to do just a little bit more next time. And the time after that.
And that’s how we get stronger, day by day.
Can’t do downward dog? Do downward “puppy dog”!
[Originally published on June 30, 2014]
While traveling recently, I took in a Weight Watchers meeting in White Plains, NY and heard the leader give a great example of how to get a workout in, no matter how much (or little) energy you have, no matter how much (or little) enthusiasm you have…and probably even more important, how much (or little) time you have. This is what she said:
“If I can’t do downward dog, I do downward ‘puppy dog’!”
And I instantly loved her, because that is so completely what this whole staying-active thing is all about.
If you can’t do the thing you’re used to doing…or if you can’t do what “everyone else” is doing (in your yoga class, or your social group, or whatever “group” you’re suddenly comparing yourself to)…or if you can’t do something you used to be able to do…just do what you can. Build on that.
When I’m really pressed for time, or energy, or confidence, my version of “downward puppy dog” looks like this: I do something that almost feels too easy, just to get myself moving. Here’s an example: I was traveling last week and had to fit in a speed session for my marathon training. And there just wasn’t time to find a track, or, well, time and energy. So I made my way to a hotel treadmill and did the world’s easiest speed session (for me, right now, at my current level of fitness): walking to start, and then four repeats of a half-mile each at the pace I want to run my October marathon. Which, by definition, should feel pretty easy by then, if all of my training goes well.
Guess what? By the fourth 800-meter repeat, I was feeling much better and ran it quite a bit faster. And I was tempted to do more…but I didn’t. I left something on the table for next time. I gave myself permission to just have an easier day, and to wait until “next time” for the badass workout. And I got in my workout for the day.
That’s my version of “downward puppy dog.” What’s yours? Find it whenever you need it, and put it in your workout toolkit.
[And back to real time: October 9, 2014.]
Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: A great TRACK session with my running buddies. I’m still coughing a little but I really wanted to get out there. Best news: a 7:23 mile time trial, even though I got a side stitch halfway through. That means healthy Nicole might just be speedy Nicole later during my fall marathon training. We’ll see!