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