Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Secret Life of Exercisers

Today, we were running outside--we'd run downtown, done squats and lunges at the lake and run across Broad until it started curving around. We'd gotten to the part where we were sprinting--fast, fast, faster--and I was breathing in and out, heavy. It was right in the middle of one of those moments when you ask yourself if you are going to make it. You worry you will keel over or run completely out of breath or just give in and slow it down to a walk.

Then, out of nowhere, a guy on a bike yelled out something encouraging. What it was is not important--"Keep going!" or "Looks good!"--something of that sort. It immediately re-invigorated and re-focused me. Keep going--almost there. And then I was. A complete stranger, yelling out to someone he didn't know, kept me going.


I always found exercising intimidating. I was not ( not?) particularly good at it. I jog more slowly than some people walk, and I sprint at others' jogs. My triceps suck, and any exercise undertaken to make them suck less left me floundering on a machine. I wasn't comfortable with turning the resistance knob on the spin bikes. I always worried that people were thinking about how dumb I looked, how miserably I was operating the machines and my own body. This was before I knew The Secret, that people who are exercising around you are the most cheery and supportive group of people I know.


Recently, I ran my first 5K. Slow, but steady--through mud puddles and a drizzly cold rain. It took me nearly 45 minutes of steady jogging, but I felt a burst of energy at the finish line, having seen my Janet near the end. I sprinted to the finish, determined to beat the clock to 45. And the man at the line started yelling for me. "Come on, 114!" he shouted. "Looking good! Come on! You're almost there!" And then I was.


I'm not an optimistic person. Most of the time, I am sardonic and sarcastic. I get it honestly--most of the scientists I know are similarly afflicted. Most of the people I know who are mentally ill, also. It's not to say that I am not happy--but I am suspicious of both promises and intentions, having fallen several times on the wrong side of both. I am neither convinced that the cup is half-full or half-empty--I'm just expected it to tip over. On me. While I'm wearing a white shirt.
But I feel like that part of me gets temporarily switched off at the gym. I don't know why--maybe I just have to use all of my energy to believe that I can sustain this change. Maybe it's that I've finally realized that this is working--I'm getting smaller and stronger. Against what I'd considered all odds, I have muscles and endurance and (gasp!) I'm even starting to enjoy myself.
I've tapped into this secret life of people who support each other wholly, no matter what stage of the game they're in. People they don't know, people they don't have anything in common with--except, of course, that they've all found this secret place. But unlike most secrets, they are all too happy to share it with anyone who's willing to seek it out. They stand at the gates, handing out maps and yelling encouragements.


I was in the weight room, which Teresa calls the "Man Pit." Being there by myself is still intimidating, even after I've been shown how to use the machines and know that what I'm doing is right.

I was lunging across the room with ten-pound round weights in each time. Exhaling and counting on each leg. And a woman who was headed for the door stopped me and said, "You look so strong!"

I thanked her. It really meant so much to me. I feel strong. But that much stronger when I'm shown the unmitigated support of so many people, many whom I've never met and will likely never see again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

The difference, this time, is that I thought--even in just the first week--"This is it. This time it's going to stick. This time, it's going to work."

It's amazing, really--the changes in thought patterns that have happened this quickly. The changes that are still happening. The changes that will happen.

They all feel permanent.


I used to tell myself that I didn't have time for exercising, between lab and sleep and cooking and time with the Boy and our friends. But when given a push, I found I could do it--that I could wake up at 4:50 most days of the week to make it to 6 AM workouts. (And that I would enjoy the traffic-less drive in the still-starry night). That I could do mouse surgery during the day and still make it through a Tae Bo workout. That I could--and would--make time to exercise, and that everyone--boyfriend and friends--would live with my time commitment. With minimal grumbling.

And already I can do things I couldn't do before. On Tuesday morning, we were instructed to do a mile on the track. I wanted to run (ok, jog) as much as I could before I dropped back to a walk. And then I ran the whole thing. And again, the next day--because I knew I could. Once you show yourself you can do something, you don't want to turn back. So you keep going. You push forward and up.

You've changed. And you don't want to go back.


As of this morning, my scale read "196." I've had this scale since 2006, and this is the first time it's read below 197 since the summer of 2007. Almost three years, and I've finally broken past that plateau.

Last week was a pretty bad week for weight loss, with only a 0.6 lb drop. To 198. And I worried that I would never get under 197, worried irrationally that I could eat clean and workout twice a day for the rest of my life and always be 197. And then, it happened. I could drop below 197. I did drop below 197.


Two of my best friends joke at length about my new eating style, Janet commenting on the state of my new "gross" yogurt and Charlie calling it incessantly my "Mormon diet" due to the general abstinence from alcohol that accompanies it.

So I get them back, joke that they are taking my diet changes much harder than I am, they laugh. And when I hassle Charlie, say jokingly "Why do you have to be so unsupportive?"--he surprises me with his answer.

"No, no," he says. "I'm proud of you."


At night, I often go to the gym in the late afternoon and leave after it's dark, or come when it's dark and leave after the sunrise. There's always a startling change in the atmosphere that startles me. It reminds me of another change in my life, about the times I visited the therapist here after an 8 month lapse in appointments.

I wrote something about that time in my personal blog, but I think it applies here too:

"You leave. Remembering why you came here in the first place and sure that you will return, you walk out the door. The conditions outside--whether they are darker or lighter than you expected--surprise you. The wind is colder, or the day is warmer. Something is different.

And maybe, just maybe, some of the time, you realize that the change is in you."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Feature

I have been wanting to post recipes here for a few days, but I was concerned about how it might break up the flow of posts. So, if you look on the sidebar --> , there is now a link to a separate recipes page.

I already have my first post up--a ridiculously simple and amazingly delicious lemon blackberry syrup I created this morning. Go check it out!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Eating Well While Surrounded By Boys

As a direct result of growing up with all brothers, I have traditionally always made friends more with boys than with girls. With the exception of three good girl friends [and of course my new Sisters in the HCC], all of my friends are boys. Boys who have a BMI less than 20, who--for the most part--are tall and skinny. Most of whom are tall and skinny by the blessing of genetics, not by any effort made to stay that way.

Still, it almost feels like they have ramped up their crazy eating to compensate for my new healthy eating. In the past two weeks, I have watched them consume:

McDonald's cheeseburgers & fries
A Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger
Two large Wendy's fries (eaten by one boy at one time)
An entire box of Cheez-Its
An entire bag of animal crackers
A small McDonald's ice cream sundae
And enough alcohol to send them spinning to the ceiling, while I stayed grounded

[the last one being the hardest one to sit out]

I don't get mad at them, or anything. Most of the time I find it funny. I won't pretend that I don't crave TERRIBLE food sometimes. But what is important is that I don't cave to those cravings. That I continue to eat to fuel my body. That I find delicious things that fill me up and energize me to work harder.


This morning, I woke up and found that my clothes in the dryer were still wet. In that load of laundry were all of my daily-wear pants, the ones that are the most comfortable.

So I pulled out a pair of jeans that I almost never wear, because they are way too tight. I dreaded fighting with them to get them on.

But I pulled them right on, and they zipped right up. And they were even a tiny bit loose at the waistband and absolutely comfortable. I couldn't believe it! But it was great motivation through the day--even when I went over to hang out with boys who eat milk-covered Oreos out of a bowl with a spoon like cereal.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You Haven't Come This Far To Fall Off The Earth

First week by the numbers:

Number of workouts: 11 (not including today)
Number of chicken breasts, consumed in halves: 4
Number of cups of water: 60ish
Number of times I listened to the song "Tik Tok" in one workout: 2
Number of times I cordially invited the stairmill to shampoo my crotch: 128
Number of pounds lost: 6.8


Last Friday, I did a circuit workout with one of our mentors, Teresa. We started on the treadmills doing part of an RPE exercise we were given. I had just started when the lady on the treadmill next to me asked what I was a part of [since I was obviously with a group]. I said that we had just started our Challenge.

And she replied: "Good for you. After all, you're worth it."

Damn straight, I thought. I am worth it.

There's that point in a workout when the sweat first drops completely off your face and onto whatever piece of equipment you're working in, or onto the floor. This moment is my favorite part of the workout, because it reminds me that I'm working hard, that I'm burning calories, that I have to keep going.

The part that is the hardest is the one where you feel like you're dying. You know you can push it, but it gets hard to. So I always tell myself: "Remember--you're not supposed to die. But at least part of the time, you're supposed to feel like you're dying."

But there's always someone to give a push--one of my fabulous team members or one of the trainers. Or one of the mentors, like Blair: when faced with running the track after doing a set of stairs, she took my hand and said "Let's go." And the whole way around, she held on and pulled and told me I was almost there. And then I made it.


The Boy has informed me that listening to music while you exercise increases your endurance by 15%. So I made a playlist of songs that had a decent backbeat, songs that I know all the words to and love. "Idioteque" by Radiohead. "Silver Lining" by Rilo Kiley. "Sugar Sugar" by Baby Bash. Etc.

But the last song on the playlist is different--slower, with no strong beat. A new song off an album I got for Christmas. The perfect motivation for that last push:

I listened to the playlist the other night as I did a bike / stairmill RPE workout. As I mentioned before, the stairmill is my Number One Nemesis. But I am one of the more obstinate people I know, and I'm determined to defeat it.

So, I struggled and fought and kept. stepping. up. until I was done. And as I hit the "STOP" button on the control panel, it was toward the end of the song.

I stopped and gasped for breath and bent my back to crack it out, and there were the words: "Just keep your head above."

Couldn't have timed it any better.