Ramblings on Running

This past Thursday, I set out for my regular run in good spirits, but within three blocks I just wasn’t feeling it. Knowing that those first few blocks are usually the worst for me, I told myself to run two more blocks and then decide whether I would be finishing with a walk instead. Somewhere during those two blocks my mind became engaged in other matters and when I noticed my surroundings again, I was almost at the 1 mile mark. I decided to do a 1.5 mile run and walk the rest of the way home. But when I got to the 1.25 mile point, instead of going straight, I made a right turn that would take me onto my 5K (3.1 miles) route.

I’d only run 5K once, the day after my 46th birthday back in June, and though it felt like a great achievement, it wasn’t one I thought I’d be repeating any time soon. So, I told myself “just go as far as you can…no pressure.” That line was repeated a few times along the way, in between the distractions of passing some neighbors and an older gentleman running who I exchanged the “running nod” with. As always, the “people encounters” energized me. Before long, I was crossing the 5K mark and slowing into my walking cool-down. I was a bit stunned that I had run another 5K when the session had begun with me wanting to stop after 3 blocks.

The next day at work, I was talking to a fellow runner, and before I could voice the thought, my friend said “isn’t it weird how there’s no rhyme or reason to how you feel when you start out and what you end up accomplishing during the session?” I thought I was the only one who felt that way—that slightly out-of-control, is-this-within-my-will uncertainty.

[Speaking of out-of-control, we won’t mention getting on the scale after running 5K and eating right all day only to find that I was 2 pounds heavier. Yeah, yeah, I know muscle weighs more than fat and all that crap, but it’s demoralizing, okay?]

Today, I set out for my run and I had the sense I was going to shoot for the 5K distance again. I didn’t want to be too enthusiastic. I’m a bit superstitious that way. Sure enough, I finished my third 5K, came home and did my crunches and stretches, and felt like I had conquered something. I no longer think of the 5K as a fluke in my running history. It’s something I can do on a regular basis.

[I guess that’s why I immediately started researching 10K training plans despite saying several weeks ago that I had no intention of increasing my distance. The Couch-to-5K program and Robert Ullrey’s podcasts that I used to get me to this point were a huge part of my success.]

So, what have I learned about my needs for a successful run:

  • Psychological state at the beginning of a run is not a good indicator of how it will end up, so “just do it.”
  • Running one or two more blocks when I want to stop gets me through the lethargy.
  • Bargaining with myself along the way usually results in running farther than the bargain offered.
  • Double knotting my shoe laces ensures the neighborhood kids won’t need to hear my muttered obscenities when I have to stop and re-tie.
  • I feel better in the early morning when the sun isn’t at its hottest, but I don’t feel like running until about 11:30 AM or so. See the “just do it” bullet above.
  • Negativity saps my energy, so ignore the idiot drivers and the smelly garbage trucks.
  • Encounters with people along the way seriously energize me, so acknowledge everyone in your path and feel the good vibes come back to you.

Please feel free to share your tips and tricks. Oh, and does anyone have a recommendation for a GPS/pedometer thingie so I can change my route and still know how far I’m running?

Sun Smart on a Rainy Day

My new mantra: I love my pasty skin.

A few weeks ago, I dragged my family to a local park for a free, skin cancer screening program sponsored by Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. We had visited a dermatologist last year for a full-body exam, but there were one or two spots that required follow-up. Considering how high my co-pays are, I was happy to have the opportunity to get some peace of mind for free. Even if that peace of mind involved the words “age spots.”

It was an overcast, rainy day. While we stood on line, Colette Coyne of the CCMAC (Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign) talked to us about skin cancer. Her daughter, Colette Marie Brigid Coyne, had died from melanoma in 1998 at the age of thirty, and she and her husband set out to increase awareness, especially among young people, about the dangers and causes of skin cancer.

She made a good point about reaching out to children. Years ago no one wore seat belts, but now kids get in a car and remind adults to fasten theirs. If you educate kids, the behavior modification carries on to future generations, as well as influencing some of the “new trick”-challenged old dogs among us. And it’s probably best to get to them before they become teenagers and are influenced by the standards of beauty promoted by magazines, television, and the movies. A desire to look tan often results in baking in the sun or in a tanning bed. Not a good idea.

Colette engaged my son in conversation and presented him with a shirt made from sun-protective fabric (a regular tee shirt offers little protection, and even less if it’s wet), a hat, sunglasses, and a bracelet that changes color in the presence of ultraviolet rays. She directed him to walk out in the rain while wearing the bracelet. He did and it turned purple, despite heavy cloud cover—a powerful lesson that you need to protect yourself even when you can’t see the sun.

We’ve all read or heard about the dangers of ultraviolet radiation. In 2004, I had my photo taken with a UV camera and was horrified to see how much sun damage I had even though I’d never been a sun worshipper. Despite being inundated with facts and news reports about skin cancer, I sometimes think it goes in one ear and out the other. “It can’t happen to me.” In the last few years, however, several people in my extended family, all under the age of 40, have been diagnosed with melanoma. I, therefore, urge all of you to click here now to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and your family. There’s no need to become hysterical or paranoid. With a bit of common sense, some inexpensive items, and a few minutes spent in preparation each day, we can all enjoy healthy lives.

Many thanks to Colette Coyne and her family for sharing their story with us and helping to make a difference. Contact her for information on bringing the Be Sun Smart® program to a school near you.

Let’s talk about PORTION SIZE.

Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths. I was born with a stainless steel spoon being repeatedly forced into mine. It seems my family received some faulty data indicating an imminent famine. They decided the appropriate action was to feed me constantly and build up my baby-fat stores to withstand the coming hardship. My grandmother was the commander of this mission. No amount of food I ate was enough. “You eat like a bird,” she’d say.

Have you ever seen a sparrow chow down on a sparerib?

Imagine my surprise when I didn’t die of starvation back in the winter of 2008 after coming down with what I now half-jokingly refer to as “the first but undocumented case of swine flu,” which left me unable to eat for two straight weeks.

After noticing something resembling hip bones jutting through my skin, I crawled out of bed and dragged my weakened body to the scale. I’d forgotten I had bones in that part of my body. I was shocked when the scale said, “Who are you and what have you done with my owner?” and an 11-pound weight loss registered on the screen. Lighter, but still alive. Hmmmmm. There was definitely something wrong with my grandmother’s philosophy on portion size.

Truth be told, I needed to lose those eleven pounds. With the exception of my pregnancy, that winter in 2008 was the heaviest I had ever been, weighing in at 156 pounds. I’d always been up and down with my weight, but somehow I had let it get away from me. Too much snacking and zero exercise were the likely suspects. But now I was beginning to wonder if I was overeating even the healthy foods in my diet.

Motivated at my new weight of 145, I decided to take advantage of my near-death experience and continued lack of appetite. I nibbled at small portions of food to get my tummy used to eating again. When my appetite returned, I decided to forge ahead in the pursuit of health and wellness and a trimmer body. The first thing I did was cut all of my meals to half their former size. I told myself I could eat more if I were still hungry a half hour later. By giving myself that permission, I eliminated the anxiety and sense of deprivation I would have felt. I rarely had to go back for seconds.

The weight continued to come off at a steady pace. It seemed my metabolism had increased. Even if I overindulged at a special occasion, I did not gain weight. My set point had readjusted. As I watched the number on the scale drop and inches disappear, I decided to add in a bit of exercise. I grabbed my iPod and walked a 2-mile route I had mapped out with my car. Back at home, I did a few hundred crunches and stretched.

Those walks did as much for my mind as they did for my body, maybe more. I became addicted to that time away from it all. Soon I added jogging to my routine. Nothing crazy. I worked my way up to two miles and alternated with walking so I didn’t put too much stress on my knees. I promised myself I’d never go more than two days without exercising. My record turned out to be much better than that, in fact.

Six months after the flu, I was down 28 pounds and weighed 128. Some people [don’t pay any attention to my internal critic waving over there in the corner] might say I should be a bit lighter for my height of 5’4” and a half. (Don’t forget the half.) But at 128 lbs., my BMI was within normal range and I was in better shape than I’d been for quite a long time. My head was in better shape, too.

I managed to keep the weight off until today. This morning, I got on the scale and saw that I was creeping up into the mid-130s. I know the reason. It’s this damned winter. I’ve been cooped up, unable to do my beloved exercise routine due to snow and ice on the roads just about every week for the past month. So I’ve been going through the motions along with the too-perky trainer on one of my annoying exercise DVDs. (I want to smack her.) I’m also feeling a bit low from lack of sunshine, and I’ve been filling the void with sinful treats. I eat when I’m emotional. Happy, sad, angry, bored, or anything in between—I don’t discriminate. Sue me, I’m Italian. Sometimes I think those old habits are embedded in my cells.

But enough is enough already, right? It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve been in the groove, and it’s time to return. Reduce portion size that has crept up, eliminate sinful snacks (for me that’s anything that includes flour and/or added sugar), and exercise regularly. Anyone want to join me?