Letting Go of the Numbers

Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful

Road to the Ironman: Volunteering

Although I know that completing an Ironman isn’t on many peoples to do list, I strongly believe that volunteering at one should be. In July 2016 I traveled to Lake Placid to watch the race, spend some time among the athletes and volunteer on the course. It’s a kind of tradition to go up and volunteer the year before you race, it also gives you preferred entry into next years race. For my part I wanted to be in that space, and feel the energy of the race, and look in the faces of the people who were accomplishing what I was hoping for.

The day of the race started for me walking with my aunt to watch the swim start. 6:30 in the morning the cannon went off for the pro females to start their swim. Shortly after the handicapped athletes get in the water, then the rest of them, wave after wave of everyday athletes filing into the water to start a race that ends 140.6 miles later.

The entire day was a roller coaster of emotion and it all started with that first cannon and the knowledge that one year from that day I would be on the other side of the barrier. Every athlete is allowed two hours and twenty minutes to complete the 2.4 mile swim, I stayed at the water and cheered and watched until the last person came out of the water to get ready for the 112 mile bike course.  Watching the Professional athletes glide through the water is a thing of beauty, they work so hard and at the same time make it look so easy. However there is nothing that has stayed with me more from that morning than the woman I watched come out of the water right around the two hour mark. She thought she had missed the time cut off, and when the volunteers assured her she had 20 minutes to spare, she screamed in pure joy before taking off towards the bikes. Racing to win takes so much strength and training and commitment, but entering a race where you know it is going to take everything in you just to finish takes a level of bravery that I hope someday to aspire to.

I spent the rest of the day filled with awe, amazement and envy. I also spent the afternoon with quick trip to the emergency room but that is a whole other story. I chose to volunteer on the marathon course. Running is my first love so that is where I wanted to be for the majority of the race. I watched athlete after athlete run, walk, or shuffle by our volunteer station and wanted to know each of their stories. I wish I could have asked them what led them to take on this challenge and how did they know they were ready? I saw several blind athletes competing with guides. I saw people running past our station with the stony look of pure determination. I saw people moving forward when everything in their body seemed to be saying Stop and rest.

At the end of my volunteer time, I made my way to the finish line, it was a little after 10pm and the race ends at midnight. These are my people finishing the race, the ones who know everything has to go just right to make it across that line in time.  Watching those last two hours of the race will stay with me forever, it was a culmination of everything I love about running and racing and the community behind it. The people that entered that oval and kept their bodies moving by pure will, you could see it by the look on their face. People who continued to move forward even when the clock had run out, committed to finishing the distance.

This post would be a book if I filled in all the incredible stories that I experienced that day, if you ever want hear the whole story, buy me a cup of coffee, clear out the rest of your day, and ask me about the time I volunteered at the Ironman.

The next morning I got up bright and early and made my way down town once again. I lined up with the other future Ironman hopefuls and put my name on the dotted line. One year from that day  I would be in that same place but I would be on the other side of everything I saw and felt, I would be the one traveling 140.6 miles to glory.

Everyone should volunteer at an Ironman, it gives you a view of the best side of people, watching everyday normal people giving every piece of themselves to cross that finish line, you can’t help but feel inspired. I promise you, when you volunteer, you will walk away wanting to do the race, wanting to feel all of it for yourself.

Road to the Ironman: Syracuse

The next and probably biggest step I took toward making the Ironman a reality was signing up for a Half Ironman in June on 2015. With running I progressed very slowly and very safely. I did the first 5k in 2009 and stuck with that distance for about a year. In 2011 I ran my first half marathon and ran my first full in October the following year. With triathlons, although I considered playing it safe, instead as soon as I finished the IronGirl sprint I registered for the Syracuse Half Ironman.

Exiting the water Syracuse Half Ironman June 21st 2015

It’s just like getting married, buying a house, or having kids, I don’t think you ever really feel ready to do that distance, so I signed up and forced myself to get ready.

The entire experience of training for that distance was full of firsts. The first time I rode my bike 50 miles by myself. The first time I completed an open water swim in water deep enough I couldn’t see the bottom. The first time I swam a mile without taking a break. Every step in preparation for that race was getting me one step closer to my ultimate goal in Lake Placid.

The morning of the race was a cluster of emotions, did I remember to put sneakers in my running bag? Did my bike tires go flat over night? Do I have to poop one more time before this race starts?  What if I get a flat, what if I crash, what if I get kicked in the face during the swim and lose my goggles, what if, what if?

Through all those questions, the biggest one looming in my mind, the question that I couldn’t seem to find an answer to was- What the hell do you think you’re doing here?

Despite all the training I had done to get myself to that start line, despite the pounds lost and strength gained, I still felt like an imposter. In my mind there were a hundred reasons why I wasn’t a real athlete and why I didn’t belong there, and as soon as that gun went off everyone would know.

It’s interesting isn’t it, the barriers that we will put in front of ourselves? The challenge of racing 70.3 miles wasn’t enough, I had to battle myself before I could take the first step. One thing I have learned about myself, and years of living with depression, is that my mind will work against me. I actually had prepared for this for the run part of the race. I planned out who and what each mile of the 13.1 was dedicated to. It’s an exercise in mental training to get through the hardest part of the race without music as a distraction. It never occurred to be to do the same thing for the start of the race.

Then something amazing happened.

Out on my bike, about 20 miles into the ride, we hit a flat section of the course. As far ahead of me as I could see were other athletes riding the same path that I was. I peddled my heart out and looked at all those bikes, I knew in that moment with every part of me that I was right where I belonged.

In that space I knew that all the challenges in my life had made me strong and resilient inside and out. I knew the battles with my body and my weight were a training ground for greater things. Instead of seeing life’s challenges as something designed to make my life harder, I finally saw it all as an opportunity to learn and grow and figure out who you really.

On the run course Syracuse Half Ironman June 21st 2015

The rest of the race is blur of sweat and work, Gatorade, and high fives. I crossed the finish line, I got the metal I had worked so hard for. I packed up my gear and went home heart soaring and feeling full of accomplishment. It was that moment of realization in the back roads of Syracuse that stays with me when I think of that race. The first time I was able to truly silence the nagging doubt, the space in time when I knew I was right where I belonged. Even though I didn’t know it at the time that was the moment I knew I was going to be an Ironman.

The Road to Ironman

Since finishing the Ironman in July I have thought over and over about how I would write about it. The experience was so all encompassing, putting it to words on paper seemed impossible. My plan is to tell this story start to finish over several posts. I guess like everything else it is best to start at the beginning.

Crossing the finish line Glen Iris 5k September 12, 2009

In September of 2009 I crossed the finish line of my first 5k. Earlier that year I had decided to take up running to get myself off the coach and out of the funk I was in.  I wish I had an awe inspiring reason for taking up running, but my number one goal was shedding the 50 pounds I put on having the girls (and the additional 40 pounds I can’t blame on them).

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I decided I would take up running. What I found was a world of movement with purpose. I found a community of the most compassionate, driven and empowering people I have ever met. I found a love of fitness that came as a huge surprise to this gym class flunky. I also found that you can’t be afraid to dream really really big.

One of the beautiful things about running is when you do a race you are rarely alone, but you have to cover the distance on your own. When you line up and wait for the starting gun to go off, you are surrounded by people covering the same course, but most of us are out there for different reasons. Other than the 20 people lined up at the front who actually think they are going to win the race, the rest of us are out there racing something else. We run against the times and distances that we are afraid of. We run from the doubt that lives in our heads and tries to say this is too much for you. We run toward goals and dreams of becoming someone we never though we could be.

Shortly after finishing that first 5k I watch the Ironman Championships and had one wild thought- Someday, that is going to be me.

Let’s review, I had just trained for 6 months to be able to run 3.1 miles without stopping, I didn’t own a bike, and I didn’t know how to swim. All those things aside, some crazy part of me looked at the athletes on TV and and dreamed about being among them.

That is where it stayed, the idea of an Ironman stayed in someday land for years, six of them to be exact. Every once in a while I would come back to it thinking about how amazing it would be to reach that level of discipline and fitness. Then I would think about how friggen hard it would be and bring my head back down from the clouds. My love and drive for running grew from that  first 5k to take on the half and full marathon. Along the way running changed from something that I did to who I was.

Ironman Canada August 10th 2014

I made the switch from runner to triathlete in August 2014 when I finished my first sprint distance triathlon with some friends. To my great surprise, I did not drown, crash my bike or finish last. For the first time taking on an Ironman became more than the glimmer of someday and felt like an actual possibility.

 

2017 In Review

Facing into the new year, it’s natural to glance back at the last one. Looking back on the big plans I had for 2017 and working through what went right, and what needs to be brushed up for 2018.

January 1st 2017 was the first official day of Ironman training, and that set the tone for the year to come. The following 6 months were filled with training, work, family, and rest. I knew the Ironman would be an all consuming training cycle, it was the training not the race its self that was daunting to me going in. Even so, when  I put together my training plan, the path ahead seemed completely manageable. Very quickly though the balance I am always striving was thrown by the wayside.

Training took over all my time and energy, and when I wasn’t training or working I was tired and hungry and trying to spend some quality time with my short people. The thought of doing anything else was exhausting, and in the wake so many things fell to the back burner. There was a moment about a week after the race where I sat down and answered emails that were at least 6 weeks over due. It took me all of 20 minutes, but that time felt completely unavailable pre July 23rd.

I am really at peace when I think about all that training, and all the time, and everything that went unfinished during that span, I don’t really see it playing out any other way. What I wrestle with was how long it took to get out of that hole. There was a deep funk after the race, and projects that I put off just until … sat on the shelf for months and months, even when I had the time. This blog not the least of them. When things sat for so long, getting back to them seemed a momentous chore.

Fitness goals are so easy for me, I thrive on a training regimen, I love the deadline of a race, the comradery of training and racing with my closest friends. So when this huge goal, this goal that I had saved and planned and trained for for almost 2 years was done, I was left with whats next. Its a question I got from almost everyone who heard about the race, a question I constantly asked myself. Without the Ironman ahead of me, what do I pour all that energy into.

Its something I am still working on but the picture is becoming a little clearer. I started the year with huge plans, for my fitness, for my career, for my family and for my personal growth. Instead of looking back with a critical eye and judging all the unchecked boxes, I am looking forward to the next step with a little bit more clarity. I have a better understanding of how all consuming goals can be when they are big enough. I have firmer grasp on what is important to me and how I divide my time. I also gained the reminder that the tasks ahead are never as insurmountable as we make them in our heads.

Until next year.

Finding Balance and the Art of Letting Go

Like so many people I am constantly striving to find balance in all aspects of my life.  I challenge my body physically, but try not to push to the point of injury. I strive to eat well, but not obsess over calories and portions. For me it’s a fine line to walk, and I’ve been on both sides. I spent a large portion of my life eating terribly and not being active at all. On my path to losing weight I counted calories and restricted my eating to almost disorder level, while at the same time working out excessively with the scale being my only goal. I spent almost a year stepping on the scale three to four times daily, hoping to see a magic number – so I know I have it in me take a goal and turn it into an obsession.

Where I am now feels so much different, but the challenge is the same, stay focused while staying balanced. Today that means keeping my training, my career, and my family all in line, and not letting one of them fall in favor of the others.

I am about 12 weeks into Ironman training. That means I am working out about 12 hours a week, and that number is going to continue to rise over the next four months. Physically and mentally I have never felt more ready for the challenge ahead of me, but there is no question that it’s a huge time commitment that can leave the people in my life wondering how much longer I’m going to be working out, or whether or not I will be at the gym in the morning.

At the same time (because I am a glutton for punishment) I am in the process of launching a business which is also taking a great deal of time and energy. Between meetings with people, researching programs, and looking at pricing, it is time away from (or at least distracted from) my family and friends. Like the Ironman, this is a challenge I am ready for but the time commitment is huge.

When it comes to my family, the key is communication. I had a conversation with my husband about everything that I am trying to do, and the time and effort it is going to take. I also sat down with my girls and explained to them what I am trying to do, and what the end goal is – spending a lot of time busy now, hopefully will mean more time at home down the road.

To find balance for my family, I do a good portion of my training in my basement so that even when I’m on the bike or treadmill I am available. I try to schedule as many appointments and meetings as I can during times when the kids are at school, that way when I get out of work, I am home for dinner and family time. Most importantly, I let go. Let go of all the expectation that I put on myself to be everything to everyone. Let go of what I think other people expect from me – making sure that I am saying no to things that are outside my availability, and learning to say yes to help when it is offered. Let go of striving for perfection and focus on simply being doing the best I can.

 

Resolutions, Goals, and Plans

 

I’ve never been a fan of resolutions. I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and it seems like people make resolutions with the intention of breaking them. Instead I like to set goals. Early in the new year I start with a blank piece of paper and make a list of everything I want to accomplish.  There are no restrictions to what I write, I don’t limit it by what seems possible or what I have time for, I just make the list. Goals that relate to my family, home, fitness, career, finances everything gets written down.

When I finish my list I let it sit for a day or two, then I start to organize and filter. There is power in writing down your goals, it takes the scattered thoughts and brings them into focus. When you take a fresh look at what you have written brings into focus what you want and what you think you should want.  Every year I set a goal to organize our office, and every year that project gets pushed aside, if it was really that important to me it would be done. If you’re looking at something you have written and all you can think is that you don’t have the time, money, or energy to make it happen, let it go for now. We find the time and money for the things that matter to us, maybe you aren’t there yet.

Sometimes the goals are small like remembering to floss every day.  Sometimes the goals are huge like completing an Ironman. Some of them won’t matter to anyone but you, that doesn’t diminish their importance.

Once you have those goals in mind, it’s time to make a plan, don’t just hope that these goals will fall into place, figure out how you’re going to make it happen. The great thing about fitness goals is a lot of them come with a plan. I have a plan for the next 30 weeks that will get me across the finish line at the Lake Placid Ironman! This year I also have big career goals, I am expanding my private coaching business, and there isn’t a training plan for that. Instead of hoping that a business plan will fall into my lap, I’m researching, expanding my education, forming new relationships, and reigniting old ones.  Putting together a plan that will get me to my goal.

Start by asking yourself what you really want. What areas of your life run smoothly, and where are you pushing against the grain. Don’t be afraid to dream big. The first time I knew I would complete a marathon I was over 200 pounds training for my first 5k. Stop limiting yourself by what seems possible.

Wineglass Marathon

 

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Sometimes you run the race and sometimes the race runs you. This race was the latter. Last Sunday I ran my fourth full marathon. Despite months of planning and preparation when the shoes hit the road it all fell apart.  Running a marathon does funny things to you, out there on the road, feeling so alone surrounded by thousands of people. Everyone has the same goal, but you have to get there by yourself.

I always start a race with a couple goals in mind. First and foremost, finish feeling good. The second goal is a finish time I think I can hit without too much trouble, in this case 4:30. The third goal is a stretch a time I would love to hit, but everything will have to be smooth to get there, on Sunday that time was 4:10.

It started out great, feeling strong, comfortable, and unhurried. I stopped to get band aids for blister I was having trouble ignoring around mile 12.  Somewhere around mile 15 the wheels started to fall off, my legs ached, nothing felt right, the music was wrong, I couldn’t stop my head from spinning with all the mistakes I had made in the last two and a half hours. At mile 16 the 4:30 pace group passed me, who needs them anyway. Somewhere between 17 and 18 the 4:45 group slides by. That’s where it all feel apart on the road, the tears flowed and the swear words flew. When the 5 hour overly cheerful pacer passed my at mile 20 I was ready to quit and call it a day. I’ve thought a lot of things in the midst of a marathon, but this was the first time I actually wondered how bad it would be to just bow out and go home. Instead I sent a message to one of the few people I know who would tell me what I needed to hear in that moment. She answered- Shoulders back, head up, keep moving forward. That is exactly what I did.

Running gives and it takes just as much. Everyone knows, the hardest part of running a marathon is that it all comes down to one day. I can dissect training schedules, shoe issues, sleep patterns, or work schedules but at the end of the day the times I spent between the start line and the finish line, I ran the best race I could, and that’s what matters. I was reminded by a very good friend that we focus on the finish lines, not the finish times.  I didn’t get into running to have record times. I didn’t get into running to run faster than my friends or win in my age group. I run to start my day on my terms. I run to spend time with some of my closest friends in the wee hours of the morning. I run to keep my body strong and balance my love of food. I run to keep my head above the low tide of depression that is always in the shadows. None of that has anything to do with the time on the clock.

Event though the numbers aren’t on the scale, It seems I still have some work to do letting go of them.

What Does “Healthy Eating” Look Like?

Every day I work with people who feel like they need to lose weight. Really, most of us are trying to find some sort of balance between what we are eating and how much we are moving. I think a large part of the frustration is that so many of us are so confused about what healthy eating actually looks like. We have been dieting for so long we don’t know how to be with food anymore.

Imagine you’re driving down the road and you get a flat tire, does it make sense to pull over and slash the other three tires? That’s how most of us deal with food. We count calories and carbs, we weigh and measure, we deny ourselves our favorite, forbidden foods. Once we slip up though its all over, we go off track with our eating just a little bit and we lose our way completely – giving up and going completely off track. We are so stuck in the all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to food.

The answer for me is 80/20, most of the time I eat well, then some days we have pizza and wings for dinner. The thing is though, when I eat something less than healthy or a little decadent, I get over it. I don’t spend the rest of the day beating myself up over a cookie at lunch. More importantly I don’t let one bad meal turn into a bad day of eating which turns into a week of bad decisions because diets can only start on Monday.  Food is good and I’m human. Life is too short to be spent counting calories. At the same time I want to live a healthy life, I want to teach my kids that eating well is not a chore. It’s all about balance. Let go of all the fads and trends. If a certain plan works for you, use it for the accountability, but leave that space in your life for splurges and treats, and know that having them is building a healthy relationship with food.

 

The number one thing I want people to learn is that healthy eating is not about always having healthy food on your plate. Healthy eating is about having a healthy relationship with the food in front of you.

The Power of the Dressing Room Mirror

In the early part of the summer I finally decided it was time to upgrade some of my wardrobe. Between running, training, and my job as a trainer I spend about 70% of my life in gym clothes, every once in a while though an occasion pops up and regular clothes are required, and mine were looking a little shabby. I took advantage of a kid free day off and headed to Marshalls. Like most people trying on clothes is not my favorite thing in the world so after searching through the stacks, I gave myself a little pep talk and headed into the dressing room with my pile of clothes.

When the clothes had all been tried and sorted into purchase or return I stood in the dressing room feeling completely defeated by the scene surrounding me. The mirrors, the mislabeled sizes, how can I be an 8 in one brand and 12 in another, the styles that don’t look good on anyone but the in store mannequins. Its a moment we all share, the harsh light and the unflattering angles showing everything we think is wrong.

Then I had a thought- it is absolutely ridiculous that my body can run a marathon yet a changing room mirror kicks my ass every time.

Our bodies are incredible machines, my body created 2 children. My body can heal broken bones. My body forgave me almost ten years of smoking and allowed me to become a distance runner. I’ve run almost 5000 miles with my own two feet and the power of my legs. At some point we just have to get over the rest of the stuff. Cellulite, stretch marks and chub rub are a part of life. We weren’t designed to be perfect, so why do we keep striving for it in the mirror. Who gets to decide what perfect looks like anyway, if you look at the “perfect” woman for every decade over the last 100 years you will find a vast variety of  shapes and sizes. Our idea of beauty is as varied as we are.

Take a look at the athletes working their butts off these few weeks in Rio. Theses are the best athletes in the world, no one would argue that they are incredibly fit. Look at all the different shapes these bodies take up, compare a swimmer to a marathon runner, then add the gymnast and a rugby player in the mix and you will have incredible diversity in body shapes and sizes, but each is healthy in their own right.

When you’re feeling frustrated because the size on your pants is larger than you wished it was, take stock of all the things your legs can do for you every single day. Stop beating yourself up because you don’t have a perfectly flat stomach, think of the power of the heart and lungs working inside that rib cage. Look at the body you have and appreciate every day what it does for you, instead of spending your time wishing it looked different, and beating it up for letting you down.

A new conversation

Its time to change the conversation that we are having about weight. Everyone is ready and willing to tell you the best way to eat, the only way to exercise, the supplements you need to have in order to achieve success. But no one is talking about why.  Why a person can be the CEO of a fortune 500 company and still not be able to get a handle on their weight. Why so many of our young people are battling eating disorders.  Why our young women, if given a choice, would rather be skinny then smart. We aren’t talking about $5 billion industry that is dedicated to convincing us that we are not good enough.  We aren’t talking about how many of us look in the mirror every day and see nothing but failure.  Before you call me out as a hypocrite, yes I make a living as a personal trainer, and yes I spend every day motivating people to lose weigh.  However this struggle is so much more than a number on the scale. The battles we are facing have so little to do with the food or our weight, and that is what no one is talking about.  Its time to change that conversation.
Here is a little bit about me… It’s not my certification or my years in the field that make me a weight loss expert. What makes me an expert is the years I have spent fighting this beast. The pounds, the diets, the disappointment and self loathing, the short cuts and desperation. The feeling growing up that I was worth less because I weighed more.  When I went to the hospital to have baby number 2, I saw 250 on the scale, and it scared the shit out of me.  I had fallen apart.  Years of depression and that overwhelming feeling of not knowing who I was or what I wanted showed up in the friendly face of someone who would do anything for anyone, but could not control what she was eating.  I now had a choice to make, these two beautiful girls  deserved a mom who had her shit together.  So I made the choice to make a change, one step at a time.  It was and is a long and often ugly process, but I got my physical health under control, and a side effect was getting my mental health at least in check. Every step of this story has been amazing, not always fun, but amazing none the less.  I grew up hating and avoiding physical activity of all kinds, now here I am a personal trainer and wellness coach, runner and triathlete.

 

Its time to let go of what the number on the scale tells you about yourself. Its time to let go of the image of what other people think we should be. It’s time to start recognizing that healthy is not defined by a size or a number. Happy is not found on the scale or at the bottom of a pint of ice cream.

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