After taking a break from running for my shinnies and then slowly introducing it back into my life, I have finally achieved my quest for six miles!
Surprisingly, it felt pretty good. I kept the pace slow and just enjoyed it. I ended up staying out after dark without my headlamp and in a not-so-great area, which was a little anxiety-inducing, but I was so glad and proud of myself for overcoming my six-mile mental block. I might have even been able to keep going!
These six miles came after two or three failed attempts on the treadmill and the pavement. I just couldn’t do it.
To enjoy a run, I feel like you need buy in from three parts: your legs, your lungs, and your heart/brain/guts/whatever. If any one of those things is off, the run won’t be as great as it could be. Perhaps the last is the running equivalent of getting your head in the game.
Of course, my next attempt at six miles was about a week after the first successful one. This time, I did a morning run. I ate a small carby breakfast, got my effects in order for the rest of the workday, and then drove to a nice 2-mile loop that is on the way to work. I had originally planned to do four loops, or eight miles, but four miles in, I was really hating it. I felt sluggish and lethargic. It was not a pleasant run, but I wanted to end on a good note, so I pushed through just one last loop. Weirdly, those were my best miles, for both pace and overall feeling. Maybe I need to do 4-mile warm-ups from now on! No. Also, when I got back into the car to go to work, this was what I saw…
Hey, someone in the Bay Area had to achieve the “quest for six” if the 49ers couldn’t…BOOM.
Humans are social creatures (duh). We want to do what everyone else is doing. If it’s new and people are trying it, we want to try it too, even if it’s dumb. I believe The Offspring said it best in their immortal work “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” when they sang
Hey, hey, do that brand new thing
I was making small talk with some guests at a party recently and they were telling me about their work, which involves studying how presenting information in a different way to different groups of people could influence how they make decisions that may affect the environment. Their study involved designing four different user interfaces that displayed information about a household’s energy usage. One display showed how much energy the household was consuming over the month, one compared the energy consumption to the previous month (I think? I might be getting this one wrong), one showed how much money the reduced consumption was saving the household, and one showed how much energy nearby households were using.
Guess which one was actually the most effective at reducing energy consumption? If you guessed the “keeping up with the Joneses” option, you guessed right. People tended to use less energy when they thought their neighbors were using a lower amount than they were. Competition drives a lot of our decisions, I think, and we don’t want to miss out on the party that we think other people are attending.
I bring this up because I believe diets can be equally socially motivating and motivated. I mean, Weight Watcher’s groups exist. And that’s cool, since sometimes we need a little support.
But that doesn’t mean I want to hear about your diet in normal, everyday social situations. I’ve already made the point that I don’t think obsessing over weight loss is shallow and might just be belying some other issues. And if you have some kind of legitimate dietary restriction, I’ll respect that if I’m throwing a party or something. So my reasons for not wanting to talk about your diet is not because I think you’re shallow or lame.
When it comes down to it, unless I bring it up, I just don’t want to think about diets. It’s not that I think diets are silly (although some definitely are), and I know that when it comes to weight loss, they tend to be more effective than exercise alone (by like 85% or something—oh wait, that’s the statistic I use when I’m making stuff up, never mind), it’s just not something I can afford to talk about.
Admittedly, I’ve never really tried to diet, for medical reasons or weight loss or otherwise, so maybe I’m being unfair. The people reading this who have found some kind of solace in dieting may be mollified to know that I don’t know how to lose weight in a healthy way. I did attempt some Caloric restriction when I was overweight, but like many people, I underestimated the Calories in the food I was eating and overestimated the Calories of what I was burning, and then rewarded myself for being “good”—you can do the math there. Maybe dieting does require some military-esque level of commitment or some reinforcement from others and I’ve just been too weak or indifferent to really buy into that. I have considered diets, but by “diet” I meant “magical thing that I can do for a few weeks to lose a few pounds and then stop doing”. I’ve never tried a lifestyle-change type of diet. Actually, I was about two seconds from trying paleo, but 1) I love bread, 2) I love pasta, 3) I don’t like saying I “don’t” eat stuff as opposed to I “can’t” or “am physically unable to” eat stuff, and 4) I’m a runner and I just need the easy carbs. I also almost went vegan, but…bacon.
Diets also scare me. As an already pretty neurotic person, I tend to obsess about things. I was pretty unhappy when I was counting Calories and I never seemed to be “winning”. When other people talk about their diets, a teeny tiny part of me worries that I should be doing some kind of diet too or that I must not care about my health if I am not being as proactive or dedicated or something. I don’t like talking about diets because they make me feel like my ~7 hours/week of exercise are inadequate.
Something that I’ve been trying to follow lately, with some success, is, when presented with a choice, to pick the option which will matter to me most a month or a year from now. For example, do I want to go out with friends or stay in because I’m tired? A month from now, I won’t remember if I had a good night’s sleep that night, but I may have fond memories of a fun night out. I think this can carry through to eating and the idea of eating crap in moderation, so that’s usually what I go for. Besides, who wants to miss out on their own birthday cake because they gave up sugar?
Probably the most frustrating thing about diets is the holier-than-thou bullshit people following them sometimes try to pull. Even just the term “clean” eating bugs the shit out of me. I’m not the only one who has noticed this, and I won’t talk about it anymore. Attacking someone’s diet is like attacking their religion, and it’s not really worth it to me. You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, as long as you understand the roots of the lifestyle you’re adopting.
Michael Pollan points out the evolution of the American diet in the last four decades or so in the introduction of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, called “Our National Eating Disorder”:
“Somehow this most elemental of activities—figuring out what to eat—has to require a remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?
“For me the absurdity of the situation became inescapable in the fall of 2002, when one of the most ancient and venerable staples of human life abruptly disappeared from the American dinner table. I’m talking of course about bread. Virtually overnight Americans changed the way they eat. A collective spasm of what can only be described as carbophobia seized the country, supplanting an era of national lipophobia dating to the Carter administration [when Congress warned Americans to steer clear of red meat].”
So we hated on red meat and then we hated on bread and pasta, a prejudice that still exists today thanks to “clean” and “paleo” diets. Low-carb diets do work, but at what price? I will concede that the overall quality of wheat products these days is not as good as in decades past. But that’s not the fault of wheat gluten or carbs.
I’m not saying don’t ever talk about food. I don’t think I am “above” talking about food. Eating is a big part of our lives, and to ignore it completely is silly, especially from a cultural standpoint. But I would rather not talk about what you “don’t” eat. Food is not an enemy to be subdued.
Perhaps we’ve gone from a culture of talking about good food to a culture of talking about good-for-you, fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, organic, free range, super “clean” whole food. Perhaps we’ve gone from experiencing food to purposefully not experiencing it.
I’ll turn again to Michael Pollan, this time to his thesis statement in his In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If I am going to change my entire eating life based on some nutritional advice, I think I can live with something as open-ended as this.
So it’s no secret to anyone within texting distance that I’ve been struggling with some more-acute-than-usual body images issues the past few weeks. As I’m not a holiday-weight worrier, the only explanation I can point to is a recent, significant weight milestone: I am now officially 20 pounds heavier than I was exactly two years ago.
Although I believe in being open about this sort of thing in theory, just as I am open about that brief period when I dealing with disordered eating (because I do not think poor mental health is anything to be ashamed of), when talking of pounds and fat, I can’t help but feel a teensy bit shallow.
Rationally, I know that comparing my weight two years ago to my weight now is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, I was thinner, but I also couldn’t climb stairs, run a half marathon, or lift pretty much anything. I was also thin because I spent about 12-15 hours a day sleeping and therefore not eating. Do I think I’ve just gained 20 pounds of pure muscle in those two years? Of course not, but the point is, no matter how unreasonable I know it is to connect the numbers on the scale to my overall health, I still feel like shit when the numbers go up.
I’ve talked about qualitative and quantitative goals to death already. I still think it’s important to have a mix of both, but the fact is that the latter are a lot easier to track. You can see it numbers in the weight of the dumbbells you’re lifting, the amount of reps you can do, Calories you’re burning, your heart rate, running pace, mileage, and yes, pounds on the scale. These are all numbers that we have given meaning to, for better or worse. On the qualitative side, you can really only judge your progress on how you feel and how you look.
Unfortunately, the types of goals that I am not interested in tracking are the ones tracked by everyone surrounding me. You can’t follow a fitness personality or hashtag or even check your feed on social media these days without being bombarded with progress pics, fitspiration (i.e. cute or clever sayings somehow revolving around pushing through something, overcoming laziness, or how the reasons you’re exercising are better than the reasons other people might be exercising, and lots of toned-but-not-bulky girls with six packs and full make-up), and people posing with weights or fitbit readouts.
I should say something here about how I don’t care what goals other people have. If you don’t want to be “skinny”, sure, that’s fine, whatever, I’ve already put in my two cents about that. If before-and-afters pump you up, who am I to rain on your parade? When you’re proud of how many Calories you’ve burned, is that really that much different than my being proud of breaking a running distance PR? You made a goal and you achieved it, and I am proud of you for that. Daaaawwww hugs.
However, as isolationist as I try to be (browsing my Instagram feed notwithstanding), other people’s goals can still affect me positively and negatively. Fitness is first and foremost an investment, and where my self-loathing comes in is when I feel like I’m not getting a return on that investment. But an ROI according to whose investment? Yeah, so I’ve gained a few pounds seemingly overnight (maybe I’ve been a little too moderate on my whole eating crap in moderation thing…) but I don’t have a clear weight loss goal, I don’t track my Calories in or out, I don’t care about target heart rate, and I don’t care about muscles (although I’m generally pleasantly surprised to notice them). The point is, I feel like a loser only when I evaluate myself on the same metrics that other people value. When I stick to what I care about—how I feel—I’m generally on top.
Moral of the story: Sometimes there’s more to an obsession with weight gain than simple vanity. The lesson I’m slowly learning (and not very well) is that the hardest thing about this health craze is staying focused on what is important to you and if that’s not what you’re bombarded with day in and day out, well, just try not to feel craptastic.
I promised myself that this blog would not devolve into a repository of my often ill-conceived and barely-articulated rants. But since this is my blog, I can do whatever I want, so I am temporarily suspending that promise in order to talk about the ladyfolk.
Try, try, try to relate to me on a level beyond our diets. There is so much more to me than what I choose to put in or not put in my mouth. (That’s what she said.) If you think that I am flattered by your comments that I’m “lucky” that I don’t need to worry about having a few holiday treats, I am not. I just feel awkward. Jokingly-but-seriously excluding me from even considering joining the office Weight Watcher’s group is not cool.
At the gym, if I’m feeling ambitious and pick a weight that is waaaay too heavy for me and I fail, don’t snicker at me. It’s rude. Likewise, if you think my tiny free weights are cute, maybe don’t show it on your face, unless you want me to punch you. I don’t have much upper body strength but I’ll give it my best shot. One type of exercise is not better than another, just different.
Very much the thesis of this post is that women should be supporting and respecting each other as individuals in all facets of life—the working world, the physical fitness world, the social world, etc. I mean that, even though I just hypothetically threatened to punch a chick in her face. We women are our own worst enemies, and that’s dumb. We are constantly putting each other down, if not to other people, at least in our own minds. And if we’re not putting each other down, we’re evaluating. I can say with 85% confidence that there is no woman living or dead who has never evaluated her physical appearance against that of another woman. Perhaps we get a confidence boost when her boobs are smaller or her hands are bigger. Perhaps we vow to diet until we too have tiny waists and thigh gaps. Ugh. The circumference of another woman’s thighs should have no bearing on our present moods. Why can’t we just see each other as people and not as potential competition? We’re never going to rule the world if we keep stabbing each other in the backs.
Unfortunately this manner of interacting based on physical appearance is as ingrained in us as blessing someone after they sneeze. If I don’t know a woman well and am trying to find some common ground, complimenting her shoes or hair is a pretty normal icebreaker. I don’t bother to delve deeper than that because I’ve already filled the silence. At the gym, I feel like I’m constantly being evaluated or am evaluating others (but mostly because I either have no idea what I’m doing or because the whole full-makeup-hair-did-matching-lululemon-workout-clothes thing just kind of baffles me).
What’s interesting is that when I think of my coworkers one by one, I know next to nothing about the married females (except stuff about their kids) but I have a go-to topic to talk about with the men—band, dogs, hockey, or running. I even have female friends with whom the majority of our interaction is based on fitness.
I feel like this is so socially accepted that there’s no incentive to form other types of relationships. Even I need to work on being supportive and not lumping women into unrelatable wife-mom categories. So this is what I’m going to do:
Find something out about my female coworkers that is not related to diet or weight loss.
Smile and/or nod at the other ladyfolk at the gym. We already have something in common—we like to work out. No point in being unfriendly or allowing my self to intimidated. I’m not intimidated by the dudes, so why should I be intimidated by the ladies?
Steer conversations into realms other than diet and exercise. I am (clearly) not a skilled conversationalist, so this might require some practice. I might have to talk about myself more. I might lose a lot of friends that way…
I posted a loooong time ago about pushing yourself and keeping yourself going, something that I have and probably always will struggle with. I painted a picture of runner who never stopped, not for aches or side stitches thirst or distraction.
And I’m full of crap. Forget that. If you’re running recreationally, there is never a reason to push yourself through pain (beyond the discomfort of just being out of shape). Pain means that something is wrong and running is the type of repetitive activity that can make it worse.
I’m guilty of pushing through pain. I did it even on the day I typed this post. Because even though I said you shouldn’t do it at all, there’s probably never going to be a day when everything is functioning properly. The trick is, find the balance. I’ve said “quality over quantity” so many times to myself that I should just tattoo it somewhere.
So if that means stopping to walk off a side stitch or stretch or tape up something, I’ll do it. If that means running 6 miles instead of 8 because I just don’t feel like it’s happening for me that day, I’ll do it.
I doubt my athleticism is going to suffer greatly because of this. I’m not interested in running any sub-4:00 marathons anytime soon. And you know what, if I absolutely need activity but I can’t run, that’s what cross-training is for.
As a recreational runner, I want to enjoy my runs. I want quality miles. I want running to be something that I do forever, until I can no longer put one foot in front of the other.
Me: “I think I’m gonna do some hill sprints once I’ve digested breakfast.”
Boyfriend: “I’m not.”
Incidentally, I spent the better part of the morning playing with a new sketching app, and I think I’ve really created a masterpiece. Or at least if I was 7 rather than 27, you’d think so. I think at this point my lack of artistic skills is just endearing rather than pathetic. I can tell myself that.
Anyway, it’s always amused me that I seem to take so much longer to get reday for a run than my boyfriend. While he’s literally just pulling on the first boardshorts he sees and cramming his toes into his Five Fingers shoes, I’m finding my inhaler, putting on sunscreen and deodorant, tracking down clean compression socks, any handy sports bra, and a hat and sunglasses. If it’s nighttime, I have reflector bracelets, reflective tape, and a headlamp. Is my phone charged so that I can run my RunKeeper app? Where are my armband and headphones? Where will I get water during the run? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY BANGS!?
Either I’m just a lot better at accessorizing or I bring too much things. Too. Much. Things.
Here’s a visual representation of everything I just wrote.
A few months ago, I posted about The Blerch, a notion conceptualized by The Oatmeal’s intimate blog post describing the author’s personal trials and triumphs in distance running. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out–after you’ve read this blog post. 🙂
Naturally, The Blerch was a concept that many runners identified with. My own Blerch manifested less as the fat, lazy angel that taunts/distracts The Oatmeal dude, but kind of a prick whose favorite word is “can’t”. My Blerch loves to hold me back, loves to remind me that I’m slow and usually physically or mentally broken. But that didn’t stop me from wanting a Blerch T-shirt.
Lo and behold, what do mine hands unwrap on Christmas Day but my very own “I Believe in the Blerch” running T-shirt! It automatically made the cut for my next running outfit selection.
I showed off the shirt in a rather out of character selfie on Instagram with yet another example of my pitiful attempts to understand and maximize the marketing potential of hashtags, including #theoatmeal….AND THEN THE OATMEAL LIKED MY POST AND I DIED INSIDE I DIIIIIIIED.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a great, if not totally fangirlish, way to end a year. Happy New Year!
Now, I can’t pinpoint the origin of my tendency to gravitate towards quizzes and categories—possibly all those hours in my preteens poring over pilfered “Young and Modern” magazines of my sister’s to find out how gutsy I am with guys (was I a gutsy go-getter or a wary wallflower?) or what kind of guy I prefer to date (pretty sure there’s a virtually unbroken preppy streak starting around then), but I can’t deny that there’s some comfort in being able to say that I fit or belong in some kind of category, that I’m an ectomorph, a triangle body shape (more like a spoon, imo), with a BMI of XX or a competitive fitness personality type. It’s like being in an exclusive club where you can nod at other ectomorphs in solidarity/commiseration over our inhibited ability to gain muscle or consult other glutards (my very pc word for my gluten-intolerant or Celiac disease-ridden friends) for innovative recipes free of that foul toxin There’s some comfort in belonging to something. That categorizing happens in running a bit too, but I think there it’s really a matter of specialization. For example, you could be a sprinter, a 5ker, a 10ker, a marathoner, or crazy an ultramarathoner. Depending on what type of runner you are, you might train differently, but that’s really about the only thing that separates one runner from another. Maybe that’s why I like acknowledging and being acknowledged by other runners—because even if we’re going different distances at a different pace, we’re all out because we like to run.
This propensity toward self-categorization persists because people are naturally inclined to be curious about themselves and ever since that dude Adam came around, they love to put names to things. Sometimes these results can be personally meaningful. However, it can also be dangerous to pigeonhole yourself into one category or misinterpret the results, and because of all that, I have become more and more resistant to buying into any kind of self-categorization. The fact is that although people may share some common character traits, every person is different and has different goals. Something that I’ve been thinking about for a while now is the psychological theory of somatotypes. According to this theory, developed in the 1940s to equate physical attributes to mental temperament (which at first just sounded a little too much like the Hippocratic four humors but meh), there are three “pure” somatotypes: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. These types are characterized by physical traits such as a lean or slim appearance with little fat or muscle, a solid and muscular look but minimal fat, and a high storage of fat, respectively. Although you may be predisposed to one type over another, your type may change as you age, and identifying your type is not as simple as looking in the mirror. Or so the theory goes. If I graphed the three somatotypes on a ternary diagram, there’s little doubt that I inhabit somewhere in the ectomorph region. I’m tall and lanky-ish with a normal female distribution of “insulation.” So what does being classified as an ectomorph actually mean for me?
As a self-identified ectomorph, I am supposed to avoid cardio, which will burn too many of the valuable Calories needed to build muscle. Rather, I’m meant to focus on strength training multiple muscle groups at the same time. This would no doubt help me (or anyone) build muscle, but I can’t help but ask what the point, then, would be? I’d likely have to keep up that regimen to maintain those muscles, and if my reason to build muscles in the first place is to be a better runner, then cutting out cardio just seems a little counterproductive. In this case, the advice I’m given does not jive with my goals. I’m not decrying the entire somatotype theory or any fitness theory for that matter. (So if you are the person who told me about it in the first place–you know who you are!–I am not attempting to debunk it or mock it or anything!) This could have just as easily been a post about how quizzes tell me to not wear prints on my lower half because it makes me look bottom-heavy(er) or how my exercise-induced asthma should restrict me to short-distance running unless I’m treating myself with meds like crazy. Like any knowledge, you can use it for good or evil. Will it push you forward or hold you back?
If what you do keeps you active, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, stop doing it. There has to be a certain amount of buy-in to following through with something that might be hard to start with, like exercising, especially if the efficacy of it is not readily apparent. That is, you have to believe that all that blood, sweat, and tears is achieving something. At the same time, don’t be afraid to challenge your own beliefs or challenge what you read, even stuff written by experts–because you are a person and not a category, fads are things that exist, and sometimes people have personal or professional agendas for saying what they say. Do not structure your entire life around an article you read in Women’s Health magazine. Challenging what you read is what one of my science professors referred to as a “cultivated skepticism.”
A good, relevant example of a well-known, creditable scientist purporting a less-than-credible scientific theory is that of Dr. Linus Pauling and his megadoses of Vitamin C. It’s hard to say enough to contrast Pauling’s early and later professional career. A short laundry list of his accomplishments includes fleshing out the field of quantum mechanics as well as making every future high school chemistry student hate him for his work on the nature of the chemical bond (i.e. ionic, covalent, etc.), for which he won one of his two Nobel Prizes (the other was a Peace Prize in the 60s). Unfortunately, more people probably know him for his belief that Vitamin C was the panacea of all human ills. He insisted that Vitamin C administered to cancer patients actually cured them of the disease (another study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found no significant difference in recovery rates between patients taking Vitamin C and a placebo). Pauling himself took something like 3 grams of Vitamin C every day to prevent colds, which is another claim that has been widely discredited by studies. (At least one study did suggest Vitamin C could lessen the severity of existing cold symptoms, but did not seem to prevent them altogether.) Despite the wealth of evidence suggesting otherwise, Pauling’s scientific credibility and his total insistence that Vitamin C boosts the immune system have created a market for products like Airborne. Even knowing that the science isn’t exactly sound, orange juice is still one of the first things I reach for when I get sick.
My point in all this is that sometimes even experts can get things wrong, and the only reason I’m not out there tearing Airborne packets off the drugstore shelves or ridiculing those who are taking 17 multivitamins a day is, really, what can it hurt to take extra vitamins? Perhaps Vitamin C isn’t helping you get better, but if you think it is, maybe the placebo effect might be worth something.
During this whole “fitness journey” thing, I’ve had to find out some things the hard way.
Like hey, did you know that taking ibuprofen for inflammation and an albuterol inhaler for asthma reduces the potassium levels in your blood? As an electrolyte, potassium helps fight muscle weakness, fatigue, and cramping. And since it is partially responsible for regulating nerve and muscle cellular function, particularly heart muscle cells, say hello to a great risk of arrhythmias. Oh, and I’m not supposed to be using my inhaler every day or even preemptively before every run or I might destroy my body. I’m exaggerating, but the risk is there and no one (cough, my doctor, cough) told me which annoys me because what is the point of seeking medical advice.
It also probably doesn’t help my general well-being that both of these medications feature nausea as a side effect. Basically, ask about side effects and negative drug interactions. Sigh.
This post marks the end of my inhaler. I’ll carry it with me (even though it takes 20-30 minutes to start working) if I remember, but I am not going to use it anymore if I can help it. Message received: damned if you do; damned if you don’t.
Update: I’ve run about 6 times so far without my inhaler and I haven’t died yet. If I sense a weird breathing thing, I walk for a little bit until I catch my breath. I can’t help but think this might be the equivalent of taking steps backward, but I also suspect that my breathing issues at this point might be a teensy bit mental–and I only mean half crazy.