December 20, 2011

Goal Setting (Part 1)

If you want to be successful, you have to have at least one goal.

My parents taught me about goal setting and working towards goals.  Sometimes goals were non-negotiable…”you will graduate from college”.  Sometimes they were expansions on my goals…..Me: “I want to have my own money (implying that to reach my goal I might be given an allowance)”; My parents: “You will get a job and earn your own money (result: I have been working for my own money since the age of 12 and have a thorough understanding of value and cost)”.
Not only did I learn about goal setting from my parents, but also during my training as a physical therapist.  PT’s are huge goal setters….Patient will ambulate 50 feet with a cane independently within 2 weeks. Patient will be able to transfer with minimal assistance of 1 from bed to chair within 1 week. Needless to say, I always need to know what the goal is going to be before I set out to do anything.
I recently had the opportunity to teach staff about effective goal setting with patients.  We talked about setting SMART goals:
Time Based
During and after the staff education I had people come up to me and reference their own goal setting (it probably helped that several of my teaching examples had to do with weight loss!).  I realized that learning how to set goals is just as important as working towards those goals but, often, people don’t take the time to set a proper goal for themselves.  We talk about goal setting, but many people don’t have the skill set to formulate effective goals.  If we don’t take the time to set a SMART goal, we often set ourselves up for failure.  If we don’t take the time to set short term goals, we often lose our way on the path to that long term goal.  If we don’t set new goals, we stagnate and fall back into our old “evil” ways.
About a year ago, I set myself the goal of finishing a triathlon.  I registered for the race on New Year’s Eve (to seal my resolution).  I started training instead of just exercising, recording my distances and times spent swimming/biking/running, and started working with a coach.  I realized in May that I could definitely finish the sprint triathlon that I had registered for and the race wasn’t until August… goal needed to be upgraded.  I started to study finish times for the same race over the past few years.  I started asking more questions about the race itself and realized that if I pushed myself and my training that I could do better than finish.  I set a goal for myself of finishing the race in less than 1:40:00 and to cross the finish line with a smile on my face.  I worked hard on many areas during the summer to meet that goal and, though I didn’t have a smile on my face until about 30 seconds after crossing the finish line, I left everything I had on that course (including the smile) and finished the race in 1:35:53…goal accomplished!
If I had stuck with my original goal of just crossing the finish line, I would have slacked off on improving my fitness.  I would have only trained 4-5 hours each week instead of 8-10 hours.   I wouldn’t have literally and figuratively ran my a__ off over the summer preparing for that triathlon.  That little goal alteration resulted in big gains on my journey towards improved fitness – and I felt great once it was accomplished.
Help yourself out – set a SMART goal for yourself……don’t say “I want to feel better” or “I want to lose weight” or “I need to exercise more”.  If you want to be successful, set a goal for yourself.  It has to be one you know you can achieve and that has meaning.  I helped a co-worker set a goal for herself recently and it looks like this:
Specific – to wear that favorite little black dress by the end of February 2012.
Measureable – well, it either fits or doesn’t, right?  If you’re not sure, ask a BFF – she’ll tell you.
Attainable – this is a dress she already owns and used to be able to wear as an adult, so there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to fit back into it again.
Relevant – wearing that LBD makes her feel good.
Time Based – the end of February 2012
So……..Be SMART and set your own goal if you haven’t already.
Walking the (active) talk – My long term training goal for the 2012 season is to design my own training program (last year I worked with a coach) and successfully complete the “I’m All That” multisport series in Skaneateles on Labor Day weekend…..the weekend is comprised of a Sprint triathlon on Saturday, and then three separate races on Sunday (a 1 mile open water swim, a 2 mile bicycle time trial, and a 4 mile run).  For my stretch goals -  I am going to shoot for personal bests in 2 out of the 3 races.  Wish me luck!

December 11, 2011

Outside of the Box

Today I had a brand new experience……snowshoe running!  Funny thing about it though was no snow!  There were predictions of lake effect snow and cold for the weekend, so it seemed that one of my typical weekend runs with Bob was not in the cards.  Due to the seasonal weather, Bob suggested that we plan to go for a snowshoe run.  He snowshoe races in the winter time, wanted to prep for an upcoming race, and it is a great cross-training alternative.  So, today arrives, as did the cold air, but not even a trace of snow.  We strapped on the snowshoes anyway and did laps in the park on the frozen, grassy ground.  It was invigorating and fun to try something new – interesting lower leg workout!

In the box: The “old” me would have opted to remain in my exceptionally comfortable bed with the electric blanket on high when my alarm went off.
Out of the box:  Advanced planning with Bob forced my cozy rear out of bed so that I could meet him at our agreed upon place/time regardless of freezing temps and wind.
In the box:  I hate being cold, I’m going to run on the treadmill (OK, let’s be honest – it’s more likely that I would have opted for more electric blanket time).
Out of the box:  Nothing that a goofy hat with ear flaps and wool mittens can’t handle….let’s just say that I was warm, but never to be considered for a Runner’s World cover shoot (I should mention that the outfit also involved a camouflage jacket...all you need to know is that I was running late and it seemed right at the moment.....snowshoes, earflaps, camo.....kind of all fits, right?).
In the box: No snow?  How could we possibly snowshoe without snow?
Out of the box:  Who needs snow?  Really, the only thing you need to snowshoe is…a pair of snowshoes.
In the box:  Routine runs, similar distances, steady paces, etc.
Out of the box:  Since I’m in my “off” season, I’ve been mixing it up a little with different activities with the goal of maintaining a base level of fitness and strength.
So whether you are trying to get motivated to start exercising or trying to find something interesting to do to stay fit, think outside of the box… might find you like it on the outside of that box you are in – even if you do have to wear a goofy hat!

November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

I am thankful.....

...for my son who stated at Thanksgiving dinner he was thankful for this peaceful world and his whole family. 

...that my son doesn't know the world isn't quite as peaceful as he thinks.

...for my daughter who has such a gentle spirit and loving heart.

...that I am able to spend time with my parents.

...for the fact that my husband is my best friend.

...that I have a little brother.

...that I can run.

...that, eventhough I cried and hated swimming when I was7, my parents still made me take swimming lessons.

...for my health and the health of my family.

November 2, 2011

Do something, anything

“Do something, anything”.  It’s one of my favorite sayings because it applies to so many opportunities we have to improve our lives or the lives of people around us…….Literacy: Read something, anything;  Volunteerism: Do something, anything OR Help someone, anyone;  Charity: Give something, anything… get the point, right?

When it comes to helping ourselves get on track to improve activity and fitness levels, it is a short and sweet mantra.  It really doesn’t matter what you do – do SOMETHING.  It’s important that you do it for yourself, do it for your health, and do it for your family.  Make the commitment to DO SOMETHING, DO ANYTHING.  Importantly, make the commitment to do it routinely.
Walk 15 minutes three times a week
Every time you are driving somewhere, park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk (briskly) to the building rather than driving around for 5 minutes looking for the closest parking spot in the front row.
Take the stairs whenever you can instead of the escalator/elevator.
Sign up to take a fitness class.
Commit to taking a walk every day with the dog, kids, husband, neighbor, co-worker, etc.
Walking the (active) Talk:  I just ran the Marine Corps 10K in Washington, DC with my brother and sister in law.  We registered for the race back in August… forward to the end of October… got in the way of any training they might have normally been able to do and the weather was quite frigid but they still did the race with me…..probably cursed me out every time they felt the post-race muscle soreness and fatigue, but I’m really proud of them. The event was great - it was very humbling for me to be racing along a route lined by active service men and women, alongside veterans (some of whom lost limbs for us), and among family members of fallen soldiers running in their memory.  It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of the day.

October 9, 2011

Mindful Eating

I love to eat!  There are very few foods that I don’t like – I love different tastes and textures; I love salty, sweet, spicy, crunchy, smooth… name it.   I think about food a great deal.
Even though I think quite a bit about food and eating, I realize that often I am mindless when it comes to eating.  Mindless in the sense that I sometimes eat food because it’s there, not because I’m hungry.  Mindless in that I stop paying attention to how much I eat, what I eat, and at what time of day I’m eating it.  To combat my mindlessness, I have developed a few strategies…….
·         I rarely eat right out of a bag when eating foods like potato chips or crackers now.  I pour a serving of chips into a bowl, close the bag AND put it away (out of sight, out of mind), and then eat the allotted chips.  I do this with snack foods, M&M’s, granola, nuts, anything that I used to mindlessly eat by the handfuls.  Now, I eat a predetermined amount and call it quits before I devour the entire bag.
·         Most days, I pack a lunch and snacks for myself to take to work.  This way I avoid the expense of eating take out or fast food.   It also allows me to eat several times throughout the workday instead of just one meal.  It also forces me to think and plan for what I need to eat which ultimately turns into healthier food choices.
·         Instead of mindlessly filling up my plate with those beloved white carbs (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes), I now mindfully choose more fruits, vegetables, and protein….same volume of food but better nutritionally.
·         I have to mindfully battle the compulsion to finish everything on my plate as well as everybody else’s plates since I hate to see food go to waste.  Those who know me well know that once I’m done eating, I often move on to eat off of my husband’s, kids’, or friends’ (OK, mainly just Tracey’s) plates as well:
o   Now, I rarely play the role of garbage disposal after my kids finish eating…..if one of the kids left a ½ a sandwich on their plate, I would eat it….AFTER I had already finished my meal.  If one of them would lose interest in a ½ eaten candy bar, I would finish it.  Some of the things I would eat I didn’t even might not be able to relate to this if you’ve never eaten cotton candy flavored yogurt out of a plastic tube.  Now, I avoid finishing those left over “morsels”.
o   I have accepted that, even though there are people starving in other parts of the world (e.g. Africa), finishing every bit of food on my dinner table will not decrease their suffering….
o   I put less food on my kids’ plates so there is less left over (yes, it took me 7 years of mommyhood to figure that one out!).
o   Rather than eat the left-over food myself (e.g. that ½ sandwich), I place it in the fridge for the child to eat at a later time (also took 7 years).
o   Mom – don’t read this one - I (sometimes) throw out left-over food that I really don’t like, but was just eating so it didn’t go to waste….in other words, I now throw it out so it doesn’t go to waist!
Mindful eating is much harder than mindless eating.  Over time, however, it has been well worth the effort toward better eating.
Walking the (active) Talk:  I rode in a 25 mile Breast Cancer Awareness ride this past weekend…. it was the first time I had ever done a ride like that and it was great!  The weather was perfect and I even had time fit in a 3 mile run before the cycling started.  I planned ahead to meet up with a friend and we did the ride together…..exercise, conversation, charity, fresh air, sunshine – beats sitting on the couch any day!

October 3, 2011

Basic Math

About 6 months ago, people started to notice that I had lost some weight.   Of course, everyone wants to know “How did you do it?” with the anticipatory look of a kid on Christmas morning with a big present under the tree.  They wait for me to say that I did Weight Watchers or Medi-Fast, or that I had acupuncture or went on the cabbage soup diet or to say anything but what I actually say which is: “I eat less and exercise more…lots more”.  As soon as I say that, the look of anticipation immediately turns to a disappointed look as I confirm what everyone knows deep down inside:  what you need to do for weight  loss is basic math…..
If the number of calories you ingest in a day is more than you expend, you will gain weight.
If the number of calories you ingest in a day is less than you expend, you will lose weight.
Here’s what I did to work on my “basic math” problem (don’t stop reading if you think this is going to be too technical…it’s easy with a minimal time commitment):
First and foremost, I had to BE HONEST with myself.  I made the effort to eat better.  I would “call myself out” on bad eating habits rather than spending time trying to justify stops for fast food, overeating, an extra glass of wine, etc.
Next, I figured out my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)….you can easily do this with an on-line calculator (e.g.  by entering your height, weight, gender, and age….essentially, your BMR tells you how many calories you can eat to be a couch potato all day and neither gain nor lose weight.  Mine happens to be right around 1400 calories.  In theory, if I eat 1400 calories a day and do very little activity other than sitting, sleeping, eating, walking from place to place in my home/at work, basic activity to get through the day, then my body weight will not change.  If I eat more than 1400 calories, then I need to make sure that I’m doing something to burn off those extra calories or my butt will start storing them for me.  Simple.
Next, I educated myself on the approximate caloric content of basic things that I was eating on a regular basis.  For example:  1 large scrambled egg=100 calories, 1 glass of red wine=150 calories, 1 cup plain cooked spaghetti=220 (OK, remember the honesty piece?  Who eats just 1 cup of spaghetti??......I had to multiply 220 by at least 4 based on the amount I would normally eat…..actual total 880 calories!!)
For two days, I wrote down what I was eating and approximate sizes/amounts.  I went to other on-line sites (e.g.  that can tell you the nutritional contents of almost every food on Earth and figured out my total caloric intake.  No caloric intake was more than 1400 calories.
Gradually, I started to read labels and keep better track of exactly what I was eating.  I don’t obsess, but have become much more mindful of what and how much I eat.  If I'm going to have a big meal or splurge on carbs, I make sure that there is some sort of exercise built into the same day to expend those extra calories.  Every once in awhile I record what I'm eating in a day and see what the total calories are for the day…..just to monitor how I'm doing.  In the beginning, I tried to stay under 2000 calories each day; and I would try really hard to stick to just 1400 if I had an “inactive” day.
That's how I started losing weight.....becoming more aware of the basic math of calories in and calories out gave me increased awareness of how my habits were directly affecting my weight.
So – DO THE MATH AND KEEP IT SIMPLE – take the time to know what amount of food you need to stay healthy and keep your body fueled, and don’t go overboard with calorie intake day after day.
Walking the (active) Talk: the Husband and I review the upcoming week’s activities on Sunday evenings, who’s picking up kids/dropping off etc. and then I plan my workouts around the family calendar.  This week was particularly challenging because I had a morning meeting off site in another town on a day that I would normally go to our YMCA to exercise before work.  Instead of skipping the day’s workout (my first inclination), I went to a YMCA in the other town (had to Google its hours and location) and ran for 30 min. before my workday started.  Then after work that same day, while the kids were having swimming lessons, I squeezed in 30 minutes of strength training…still hitting my goal of 1 hour of exercise for the day.  It always takes some effort, but usually I can manage to fit in time for myself now that I’m committed to being more active.  MAKE THE TIME FOR YOURSELF.

September 25, 2011

Play Within Your Means

Backstory:  My  husband, Tim, and I have both played competitive volleyball throughout our adult years.  We met playing doubles in our twenties and both played beach volleyball competitively; most weeks one, if not both of us, still plays at least one game of volleyball somewhere.  We took a decade off from playing together and recently started playing doubles together again.  Now that we are older, less flexible, more likely to break something, deconditioned, etc., I remind him before every game: “Play within your means…you don’t want to break a hip or something”.   Since my level of fitness has become much better over the past 6 months, I’ve found myself saying “Play within YOUR means” as if I’m now immune to injury.    A little on the cocky side, like that twenty-something I used to be who could play in two volleyball tournaments every weekend throughout the summer and have nothing but a sunburn and a bad hangover each week in terms of lasting effects.

Last weekend:  I was slated to be on a relay team for the Ironman 70.3.  I was going to be the swimmer for the swim/bike/run event – I trained well for the swimming and I had done the 1.2 mile distance in open water several times over the past few months.  Then, I got THE EMAIL….our runner had the flu and was out of commission.  So what do I do?  I offer to do the run in addition to the swim….even though I hadn’t trained for the distance.  I had run 11 miles for the first time a couple of weeks earlier, so I figured how bad could 13.1 be?  I was feeling fit, strong, confident - why not give it a shot?  I immediately set two goals for myself….run the entire distance (never jog/walk) and complete the leg in less than 2 hours.  Really, Brenda?  How about just complete the race, enjoy the day, and run the farthest distance that you’ve ever run in your life?
Long story, short:  The swim was great in spite of the fact that the air temperature was in the 50’s, water temperature in the 60’s, and my feet were numb by the time I exited the water.  I warmed up, hydrated, and stretched while my teammate was on his 56 mile ride.  I started running and felt great.  I was running a ½ marathon!  It was a gorgeous day and I was psyched (adrenaline makes me incredibly ambitious).  I pushed myself very hard, ran the entire distance, and was able to finish the run in 1:56:08 (8:51 pace) with a smile on my face…..the smile was pained and forced, but a smile nonetheless.
Joy and pain:  Within minutes after finishing the race, after enjoying a brief celebration of our team’s success, my legs started cramping.…not just a calf muscle or foot, but my entire leg….if I bent my leg, my hip flexors and hamstrings would cramp; if I straightened my leg, my quads and calf would cramp.  I immediately ate a banana, drank tons of Gatorade, walked, tried to stretch, you name it.  I drank so much that I then had to make my way slowly to a Porta-potty….when I finally reached it and stepped up in, my entire leg cramped and I became stuck kind of half in and half out of the little green shack with the door shut on my leg (I did have a brief moment of panic as I envisioned the possibility that I might get stuck in there and have to call out for assistance.  Newsflash: “Middle aged woman trapped in portable toilet as her body is gripped by spasms”).  Apparently, my fear of embarrassment is much stronger than my fear of pain as I did what I needed to do and quickly forced my way stiff-legged out of the Porta-potty to avoid any prolonged stays or ugly scenes.  It took me 15 minutes after that just to change my socks.  I was finally able to recover well enough to drive home, but the entire cramping experience definitely put a damper on the day.  For days after the race, I hobbled around, unable to go up and down stairs normally, even lowering myself down into a seated position was a sight to behold.  My quadriceps and hamstrings were sore to even the lightest touch.   I missed out on several training days due to pain from overexertion.  I missed competing in the last triathlon of the season because my over-confident “twenty-something” ego didn’t heed the very sound advice of my own “forty-something” common sense……..Play within your means, Brenda, play within your means.
Take away message:  No matter what you decide to do to improve your fitness, be smart and be enthusiastic yet cautious when trying something new or stepping up your efforts  – pain and injury can be two detriments to maintaining an active lifestyle.  It’s hard enough to schedule time for yourself to exercise – you want that time to feel good and be fun – it’s not worth hurting yourself and giving yourself one more reason NOT to exercise – make sure you play, but play within your means.
Walking the (active) Talk:  Today my kids and I had a race day!  The kids completed a fun run which I followed with a 5K race.  They were excited to be in their first race and I was able to share in the experience with them while still taking time to do my own thing.  It took a little planning (thanks to Pappa for helping keep an eye on the kids during the 5K!), but was well worth the effort.

September 19, 2011

Reflections on a Mid-life Crisis

“Mid-life crisis”…….I’ve heard this phrase thrown my way more than a few times these past few months.  I have tried not to take offense.  Rather I have taken the high road and tried to ignore the comments and jokes about my somewhat sudden change of lifestyle….“Let’s not turn a positive into a negative”, I’d say.  Well, here is my true confession…..I WAS in the midst of a mid-life crisis – LAST year.  I’m not sure anyone but me knew it at the time.  Thankfully, the Crisis of 2010 has passed.
What did my crisis look and feel like?  I turned 40.  My kids (thank God) became much more self-sufficient and less needy.   I had a body that did not feel or look like my own – a body that had spent the better part of 7 years serving as a vessel for new life, a food source for said new life, and eventually a jungle gym for two fabulous growing children.  A body whose owner stopped taking care of it properly and, in retaliation, began sending nasty warning signals like elevated blood sugars, pain, and uncomfortable heart arrhythmias.   I was experiencing activity limiting bouts of incontinence – an unfortunate consequence of birthing the two aforementioned babes.  My crisis involved feeling resentful that I had become a person unlike the one I had envisioned in my earlier years.  Resentment that all of my waking hours felt like they were dedicated to taking care of other people with no time to care for myself.  It involved disappointment that I had become soft, weak, and unable to move my body in space the way that I needed.  Then there was the greater disappointment that I was not modeling a healthy and active lifestyle for my kids.
So, in the midst of this crisis last year, what did I do?  First, I organized a birthday party with my closest peeps which was really fun, but didn’t really make me feel any better about myself once the party was over.  I then chose to remain in crisis for months as I felt I was “too busy” and didn’t have enough energy to do anything else.  Finally, I decided to heed the two pieces of advice that I have given others over the past few years….1) Do something, ANYTHING and 2) Do it thoughtfully in small, incremental, sustainable steps.
I don’t want to list too many boring details, but it’s important to gain perspective on how I was able to get OUT of crisis over the past year.  Yes, it took me almost an entire year.  I started eating better food, in better sized portions, at better times of the day.  I stopped eating so many white carbs….bread, rice, pasta; and drastically increased fruits, vegetables, and proteins.  I resumed exercising with purpose and with definitive goals - to become more fit, lose weight, and to eventually become an athlete again.  Through some medical testing, I was reassured that although my multiple repetitive heart flutterings were, in fact, real - they were benign.  After several years of vacillation and procrastination, I bit the bullet and underwent a procedure to resolve the incontinence – success!  In short, over the course of the past year I got my house in order and crisis mitigation eventually led to crisis resolution.
How do I know I am no longer in crisis?  First, there are the objective signs….25# lost, 6 inches missing from my waist, cholesterol/triglycerides/blood sugar/resting heart rate all reduced to fabulous levels, my BMI has dropped over 4 points to 20.0 (proof, Dad, that I’m not emaciated….just more healthy).  As for the second set of signs…..with my family’s support, I now make time for myself to be active at least 5 days a week.  I successfully completed my first sprint triathlon in August and was able to complete two legs of a ½ Ironman in September (swim/run).  I no longer feel resentful and angry.  I feel joy and more at peace (well, as much as a time-crunched control-freak like myself can  J).  I am an athlete once again.  Lastly, though I cannot be the judge of these particular post-crisis signs, I hope that I am now a better mother, a better wife, and a role model for my family and friends.
As for the biggest sign of all?  Now, when I hear someone make comments about mid-life crises, people’s perceptions that I’ve lost too much weight, or jokes about my desire to swim in the lake, run in the woods, or ride on the hills…..I smile and invite them to join me.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (Important persons aka – the Crisis Intervention Team)
Kelly (coach) – for guiding me through my first tri-training, inspiring me to do my very best, and giving me permission to just be me once in awhile
Bob (running buddy) – for getting up at 5:00 am (even though he doesn’t have to) to meet for many runs before work and early mornings on weekends; and for putting up with my tempo runs (even though he doesn’t have to)
Tom and La – for cheering me on long distance and never once saying I was having a mid-life crisis (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my brother even joining me for training rides which resulted in a post-ride ice pack to his man-parts….back in the saddle again!)
Mom and Dad – for giving me the life skills to handle life’s ups and downs; for supporting so many of my sporting adventures over the past 25 years; and for taking on child care and taxi service this past summer so that I could train
Elaine and Tony, and all other relatives – for “gearing me up” – bike computer, helmet, etc. – and for cheering me on
Lady Gaga – for providing my theme song (Edge of Glory) over and over and over again on the radio during crisis mitigation…..I am no longer on the edge….
Dr. H….for convincing me that I could “exercise with impunity” (his words, not mine)
Dr. K….plumbing repairs…enough said, right?
Tim – for love and support always; for being my best friend whether I’m in crisis or not
Andi and Aaron – my biggest fans, my motivators, and the best reasons in the world to be a better person