Monday, May 18, 2015

We All Have Our Moments

As proof that I have moments when my motivation is in the ditch, I bring you this screen shot from last week (my comments are in blue). If you think you're the only one who struggles to get your butt up and out the door, rest assured, you are not.

Next week I'll explain how I am (sort of) training for a triathlon.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Party's Over

Did you have a happy Mother's Day? I did, I really did. Filled with homemade gifts and cards, hugs and kisses, restraint from whining and sibling fights, a hands-off day in the kitchen and demands to not do laundry on that sacred day for mothers.

And then you wake up the next day. And if you were like me, that was at 1:30 a.m. when the clock alarm in my son's room went off unexpectedly. (The Boy never budged.) Still I was up with the sun and--good morning!--a vomiting dog. That stubborn pile of laundry had not disappeared in the night, children bickered as they ate their breakfast, dirty dishes remained scattered across the kitchen island, and I smiled. I wouldn't have it any other way. I love my life. (Yoga helps). No matter what comes my way I am a happy mom.

I was also very happy to get this card in the mail from a creative, thoughtful mom friend. I laughed. I cried. I shared with my blog readers:

I hope you had a loving Mother's Day, too. But here's the thing: Mother's Day is a year round holiday (in your head). Take care of yourself and appreciate all you do for your family every day. For what it's worth, yoga helps.

Monday, May 4, 2015

When the Running Shoes Fit Just Right

Yesterday morning I was part of a running group. There is running and then there is running with a bunch of fun women. What's the difference? When running with a bunch of fun women:

1) You lose track of time.
2) You pay no mind to pace.
3) The miles fly by.

When I thought I gave up running for good two years ago, what I mourned most was the camaraderie from running with friends. Runners are my people; I felt disconnected from my tribe.

As I return to running I've noticed that when I choose to go on a run it's either because a) I'm so stressed out no other form of stress relief will do or 2) I've been invited to run with a friend.

Thinking back to that running dream where one shoe is too big and one too small, I realize when I run with a bunch of fun women, the running shoes fit just right.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fitness Fun Enough To Do At Home

Nothing warms a fit mom's heart like finding your kids dancing. Who says screen time is all bad? My youngest daughter found this Eye of the Tiger Just Dance video online.

(I wonder if dancing with The Boy while in utero will turn him into a life-long dancer?)

My daughter told me she did this in her gym class. I love how she enjoyed this "school work" so much she brought it home. I get it. When I can't get to a yoga class I will roll out my mat for a few poses on my own. I love it that much.

You're much more likely to be active when you choose to move in ways that don't feel like drudgery. Whatever you do for fitness should pass the "fun enough to do at home" test.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hi, My Name is Kara and I'm a Recovering Step Hoarder

Did you notice I stopped writing about my Fitbit?

Perhaps you surmised (and rightly so) I lost it for good. That's an easy assumption since I wrote often about the losing and the finding of my Fitbit. As it happened, I was on a hike last fall when I pulled over to check my distance on my little moss-green, leaf-sized gadget; not so much to check how far I had gone, but to measure the distance back to my house. When I got back to my house, however, and looked at the waistband of my shorts, my little moss-green, leaf-sized Fitbit was gone. I went back to the area where I had last seen it and started looking around, but you can see my dilemma.

That speck of green in the middle of this shot is not my little moss-green, leaf-sized Fitbit.
I gave up, which turned out to be a blessing-in-disguise, allowing me to become a recovering step hoarder. I decided without technology, I had a pretty good sense for my daily activity. I would go rogue and be one of the few people not wearing a tracking device.

Then for my birthday, my husband bought me a replacement. (This is not to say he didn't think my fitness instincts should be trusted, he was just trying to be thoughtful). Same little moss-green, leaf-sized Fitbit that I knew, which is to say I knew I would repeatedly suffer the frustration of going out for a long walk only to realize my Fitbit was still tucked into yesterday's shorts, before losing this one for good, too.

What I wanted was the style that stayed secured to my wrist, but I didn't want all the extra features (and price tag) that came with it.
(Dear Fitbit, I don't care about the quality of my sleep and --NEWS FLASH!!--no mother does. Between hungry newborns, night terrors, sick kids, and "oops I wet the bed," sleep quality is not realistic. So please offer versions of your various models that don't start our day by telling us we got a terrible night's sleep--thank you Captain Obvious--but do keep counting all the steps from bed to child's room; from child's room to kitchen; from child's room to washing machine, etc. so at least all moms get a jump start on their day's step totals.)
Unable to exchange my Fitbit for one that provided bare-bones data, attached to my wrist, and was less than $100, I did the mature thing and returned it. I was going to continue life without counting every step. Still love that Albert Einstein quote, which is the recovering step hoarder's serenity prayer: "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."

Then I got an email from Fitbit (because I'm still logged in despite my little moss-green, leaf-sized gadget turning to compost right about now) to tell me that in fact, not every step does count, not even the steps tracked on their devices. Beginning this month, they now measure "active minutes," to keep step hoarders honest. Steps you take that last less than 10 minutes don't fall into the "active minutes" total. And if we're going to follow the CDC's guidelines for physical activity, only activity that lasts a minimum of 10 minutes is going to do you some good.

What this means for step hoarders: Getting up from your desk to walk to the faucet and refill your water bottle can be counted as steps, yes, but doesn't count toward active minutes. Walking up and down the flight of stairs before you go to bed so you can hit your 10,000 number is a waste of time. All the advice to take the stairs and park farther away?  It's bull shit.

Or is it? True, the steps of less-than-10-minutes may not count toward any aerobic or endurance benefits, but I'm still fond of them (I said recovering step hoarder, not recovered step hoarder). In the first fitness tracker post I ever wrote in 2011 (long before Fitbit was a thing) I shared my enthusiasm for the Polar Activity Monitor:
I do believe that the daily tasks of motherhood keep me active and that housework can be exercise. But that was just my opinion. The Polar Activity Monitor now proves it. Take last Monday. No workout. But I did vacuum, tackle four loads of laundry, and scrub blue marker (unsuccessfully) from the carpet. By noon I had taken 12000 steps. By the end of the day, after bus stops and swim lessons and dinner and dishes my steps had accumulated to 20254. Wowza. There was 56 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity recorded on my Polar Activity Monitor, and yet I hadn't officially "exercised." Take that!
Ah, there it is, a record of how my obsession with step hoarding began.

I do believe tracking active minutes is a useful tool to measure fitness; it's a solution to the dilemma I once had about whether or not to wear a tracker when I exercise. Exercise is a separate animal from total daily steps. Yet I still think all those non-fitness steps count for something. Those are the steps that keep us from sitting too long (sitting is the new smoking!), that help engage our glutes every time we stand up, that help our circulation, that can lead to who knows what... a chat with your neighbor at the mail box, bumping into your kid in the hallway and getting an impromptu hug, catching sight of an extraordinary sunset.

Sounds like a recovering step hoarder on the verge of a relapse.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How My "Oops!" Parenting Moment Became Welcome Adversity For My Kids

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend a speaking event with Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of Wild, which as the universe would have it was the perfect prep for my lesson in parenting that week.

The whole of Cheryl's speech was riveting but there was one particular nugget that stuck with me as she spoke of lessons learned from her solo journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. She described how it served as a rite-of-passage for her, something most cultures once provided as children became adults. The common core among all rites-of-passage, she said, include a physically difficult challenge with elements of deprivation that is accomplished in solitude.

That resonated with me as an endurance athlete and was how I described why I trained and raced for marathons and triathlons some 20 years ago to my then octogenarian grandfather. I told him if I had been born 100 years earlier I would have been one of those people in a covered wagon heading west. This modern era of ours doesn't provide many opportunities to experience the kind of physical struggle that was an integral part of life for our ancestors. My struggle as an endurance athlete was fabricated, yes, but in a way that filled the yearning to dig deep, which has been passed down in my DNA by my pioneering forefathers.

Can we all agree that adversity can be good for us? Can we agree that in general, kids growing up in middle and upper class families at least, don't experience a whole lot of adversity? In fact, protecting our kids from adversity seems to have become part of our jobs as parents; to keep our kids safe; to always be there when our kids are in need. Can we all agree then that what we might think of as parenting failures might indeed be just the adversity our kids need?

So it was in HINDSIGHT, after recalling Cheryl's speech, that I realized I did my kids a favor last week when I was downtown at a writing conference and unable to be there for them. They got off the bus in the driving rain (which turned to sleet) and discovered that the garage code, which normally provides entry to the house, was not working. My kids don't have cell phones. Did I mention my husband was traveling?

Without any help from me, they devised a plan: one 11-year-old stayed under the porch with the 6-year-old, while the other 11-year-old and 9-year-old walked about a half-mile to our neighbor's house (not the closest neighbor, but the one with kids on the same bus where they knew an adult was home). My neighbor called me and we managed to get the kids safely inside without me having to leave my writing conference early.

Once all was said and done (i.e. collecting myself after sobbing over the fact that this one time I was not home for them was when they needed me), I realized this opportunity in adversity was good for us. While not exactly hiking the PCT trail solo, this microcosm of a rite-of-passage for my kids provided a challenge without a parent to guide them (deprived of a cell phone and umbrella). I learned my kids are quite competent without me. They handled the situation sensibly and bravely; I was proud of them and told them so. No doubt, they gained a new measure of confidence in themselves (and me in them, ahem).

I can't say I'll set up these sort of "traps" for them as a way to gain their independence, but it certainly helps knowing these mishaps can provide good training ground to allow them to think on their feet and solve problems on their own, while letting me off the hook to be the perfect parent. If they desire a bigger physical challenge, well, they can always sign up for a triathlon.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Running Dream Analysis

I am a dreamer, in every sense of the word. Particularly, I dream at night and most mornings I wake to reminisce over the memorable, yet often nonsensical scenes. Occasionally I recall longer spans with an unimportant narrative that dissolves in my memory by noon. Then there are those rare occurrences when I wake to a fully formed story, one that I replay in my mind over and over; a dream that pesters me for days to understand.

The Dream

I was lying naked in bed with actor Mark Ruffalo. (Remember, this is a running dream).

In my dream I am self-conscious about my body--my now body--my 46-year-old, birthed-and-nursed-four-babies body. Nothing happened between us (that I can recall anyway). The moment ends when Mr. Ruffalo’s wife enters the home. I head for the front door. In my dream I see the wife, who is young, lean, supple; her hair is long and blonde. Although I see her in the house, I don’t think she understands I am there.

Now wearing a white bathrobe, I grab running shoes laying in a heap by the front door. I exit the house and begin running down the street.

As I run away I realize one shoe is hers and one shoe is his. One shoe is too small, constricting my foot; the other shoe is too big, loose and floppy.

Analyzing the Dream, Part I

Where did Mark Ruffalo come from? My husband’s name is Mark, too. I consider the possibility that Mark Ruffalo is really my beloved, married-for-16-years Mark.

Even though my body isn’t the same as it was 25 years ago, I still appreciate my body far more than I ever did in my unscathed 20s. Why, suddenly, did this dream cast any doubt?

That’s when I determined that Mark Ruffalo wasn’t really Mark Ruffalo, who also wasn’t my husband Mark, either. Mark Ruffalo was me. The me who I want to fully accept this now body I have without judgement or sarcasm.

And who was his wife? My younger self with her long blonde hair, who remains oblivious to the changes of her body to come.

Analyzing the Dream, Part II

Why did I run when I haven’t been a “real runner” in several years? 

Putting on running shoes was by far the strangest part of my dream. In every running dream I can recall over the last 25 years, I am barefoot. Not only am I wearing shoes in my dream, I am wearing shoes that don’t fit. One shoe that, if I believe the conclusion of my dream analysis so far, belongs to my younger, ambitious self who was constantly seeking approval, and one that belongs to the self who has worked hard to let go, appreciate the ground under her feet, and embrace what is now.

What I embrace now is a daily walk, lots of yoga and restorative exercise. But six months ago I started allowing myself an occasional run when the urge strikes; rarely more than three miles, rarely more than once a week. I don’t run out of obligation. I don’t run to accrue a certain amount of weekly mileage. I just run when I feel called to do so. It’s like touching base with an old friend.

Since allowing myself to run though, I feel I have cracked open a door I’m not sure I want to open any wider. I can’t help but wonder if my three easy miles will continue to satisfy me or if I will feel an urge to race again.

During my rehabilitation I received sage advice from a wise man (my hair dresser, not a runner) about coming to terms with letting go of running. He said, “People who have to run, are either running away from something or toward something.” Maybe, maybe not, but this I know: while I want to run, I don’t want to run away from gracefully accepting my body as I age, or run toward the affirmations and subsequent injury brought on by too much racing.

At first I feared my dream, with a running shoe too big and one too small, suggested my long-time passion for running no longer fits. But a friend suggested the dream might be telling me I haven’t yet found how running fits into my life now.

If I still need another dream or two to figure it out, Bradley Cooper and George Clooney are welcome to join me.