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No snow today in our area.  In fact it was warmer than usual, but still just perfect temp-wise for this cold-weather running junkie.

No slush or mess (darn), but cool enough to make the run fun and slightly crazy.

If felt like this:

Image

Photo Credit

And no, this isn’t me.  (Not hardly.)

My route was through my neighborhood with enough crumbly curbs that I just decided to run in the asphalt bike path to avoid injury.  I’m not in quite as great shape as this chickie.  (Ha!)  But I can tell you, my shoes sure did look better than hers!

In any case, I decided early on in my running adventures that I wasn’t going to let how I looked determine how I felt when I ran, or whether I had the nerve to get out there and run at all.  Several years ago, a local chiropractor had encouraged me to get active and gave me some tips on running, since I’d tried that a few times in my life.

The biggest obstacle for me at the time was getting out there at all.  I had let myself get so out of shape that I was completely humiliated.  I wondered how hard it would be to run under cover of darkness or in the very early morning so that I wouldn’t horrify innocent bystanders.  I couldn’t look in the mirror and deal with myself, let alone imagine the awful spectacle I was sure to become if I began running where people could see me.

The other option, of course, was trail running.  But since at the time I was terrified of encountering the axe murderer if I was alone on some trail, I opted out of the alone-in-the-wilderness opportunity.  (FYI:  Still terrified of the axe murderer.  I do trails now, but not by myself.  Call me paranoid, but I’m still here!)

Eventually, I made the hard decision to care more about my health and well-being than about how I looked and whether I would become the daily entertainment for potential rude pea-brains who probably never ran a half-block, much less a half-marathon.  I decided that what mattered to me was my plan for my life and health, and what that meant to me as a mother, daughter, wife and friend.  I decided that rather than focus on how things might appear to be at the moment (bad and blubbery), that I would focus on my vision for my health and my future (bright and vital).

And what happened was amazing.  I was able to go from walking to short runs and then long runs.  I never became a fast runner, but I was cool with that as an adult-onset athlete.  I became determined to get those runs done.  The more challenging the weather and terrain, the better runner I became.  I grew stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.  And years later, even after breaks from running, I know that lacing up my shoes and heading out onto the road holds the promise of that strength.

And I came to realize that even though my route may not be as beautiful as Chickie’s route in the photo above, and even though my bod may not be as fit as her 20-ish little self, I have something better for myself day by day.  Because I keep on going and keep focusing on my vision, every run becomes a championship run for me.  Every run really holds the possibility of feeling like this photo on the inside, regardless of my circumstances.  And on days like today, where the weather and the circumstances and the emotions of the day and the endorphin cocktail combine just right, the Strong is even Stronger.  And the experience is something absolutely Beautiful.

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So when you saw the title of this post, did you really think I was going to post my “Before” photos here in all of my XL glory?  Seriously?  HA HA HA HA  No.

But here’s the idea: 

Photo Credit

Now please, before you go reading anything into this cartoon, please know I just snagged it from google images (credit given) because the lady still looked cute, even for a big girl.  Kinda like me.  So I appreciate her struggles, even though she is, well, a cartoon.

The thing is, I DID just take some super-duper-top-secret “BEFORE” photos.  I’m getting ready to start something new this Monday and I’m certain that the last quarter of 2010 is going to yield awesome results for me physically!  The Before Photos will be my evidence of how far I’ve come. 

But I am most certainly NOT going to be sharing those “Before” Pics here unless I’ve got some hottie “After” Pics of myself to post along side them.  This will take time, effort, and cooperation from my metabolism.

If you want to know why most people don’t embark on these weight-loss odysseys that require photographic evidence, I have a theory. 

I do NOT think the problem is not wanting to face one’s blubbery image on the screen.  I do NOT think the problem is embarrassment of the throngs of curiousity-seekers who might ogle at your photo like some sort of freak in a carnival tent. 

No, I’m pretty confident that the Real Issue is that Before Photos are NOT a one-person job.  There is another person clicking away at the camera to capture all that voluptuousness.  In theory, this photographer is an encourager, someone who you trust.  But the Before Photo is where theory meets reality. 

It’s ugly, people.  In so many ways.

I shall illustrate.

My photographic helpers were daughters Ninja (11 year-old tomboy) and Princess (10 year-old girlie girl). 

Princess:  Mom, you don’t look that fat.  You look cute.

Ninja:  You don’t look fat at all Mom.  (pause)  *giggle*

Me:  What?

Ninja:  (collecting herself)  No.  You look great Mom. 

Princess:  It’s just that we’re not used to seeing you with, you know, THAT (points to my XL belly sticking out between the bottom of my bright yellow running bra and the waist of my black compression shorts.)

Me:  Yes, I usually try to be more modest.  It’s not like I’m going to be wearing this get-up out at…

Princess:  (interrupting)  No, really Mom.  It’s not that you look like a hootchie or anything.  It’s just that I had no idea your belly was so…

Ninja:  (cutting her off)  Let’s take the pictures, now.  (clicks away at camera)  Okay, turn to the side now.

Me:  (turning) Like this?

Ninja:  Sure.  Yeah, Yes…Yes…  ACK!  WOW!  Oh Mom, I had no idea. 

(Princess flees from hallway photography studio, possibly in fear, possibly to avoid being caught laughing at mama.)

Me:  Nice.  Did you get the stinking picture?

Ninja:  Yeah, Mom.  Here’s your camera. 

Me:  (looking at the photos)  Ugh.  I have my work cut out for me.  Thanks for your help, girls.

Princess:  (peeking back around the corner)  You really do look cute, Mom.

Ninja:  In a silly kind of way.

Princess:  Yes, “silly.”  That’s it exactly.

Me:  (muttering to myself as I head away from the camera crew, who I imagine is now dissolving into a fit of giggles) I guess the whole experience could have been worse.

Helpful Husband:  (from the next room) What experience?

Exactly.

So this is exactly why most people do NOT put themselves through the ordeal of those Before Photos. 

Marathon training?  No problem. 

Intense cardio?  Awesome.

Strength training from hell?  Bring it. 

They are small potatoes compared to the ordeal of the Before Photos. 

But I figure if you can make it through the Before Photo ordeal, then everything else is downhill from there! 

Check back with me on December 31, and I’ll tell you whether it was worth it!  🙂

 [UPDATE:] 

Helpful Husband has now been exposed to this blog post.  After laughing hysterically–a little too loud and long, I might add–he asks, “When did this happen?  Was it here?  Was I here?  Really?” 

“A couple weeks ago.  Yes.  Yes.  And yes.”  Hard stare at HH.

Long pause while HH ponders whether he would have been in more trouble if he’d been involved during the infamous photo shoot than he is for being so very unaware. 

Again, I say, it could have been worse!

 

 

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I started running in the very warm weather.  At the time, the key training issues for me were strategic hydration and forcing myself to haul my body out of bed to run at the crack of dawn to beat the morning heat.  I remember wondering vaguely about how I was going to handle running in the elements, but secretly considering the thought that icky weather would be my excuse to avoid running. 

Then I met Dotty.  Yes, the same Dotty that filled my mind with visions of the Virginia Beach Half Marathon and enticed me to register for the 26.2 with Donna Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer.  That one.  When I found out she had been a distance runner for many years, I asked her about how she handled rain, wind and snow.  She shocked me with her response.  As I recall, it went something like this:

I run every day it’s on my training schedule and I always run outside.  The only reason I would not run outside would be if there was lightning. 

Two or three seasons full of running excuses, blown to smithereens in about 20 seconds of conversation!  And yet how awesome was that?  With snow on the ground even?  Yep.  Even when it’s really, really cold?  Yes.  Pouring rain?  As long as there’s no lightning.  How on earth do you do that?  Just have the right gear and go. 

Wow.

So, I figured this was probably a gold standard for outdoor runners and, since I hate the treadmill, I immediately adopted this as my standard too. 

Now, you may recall that in our neck of the woods we have had a really, really rainy Fall.  In fact, as of today, there are still crops in fields locally that have not been able to be harvested because the ground is too wet.  It has been one rainy season!  Interestingly, I have not had one run cancelled due to lightning.  I’ve watched for it, but all this rain has produced almost zero lightning.  So on I ran. 

Then in the late Fall, the weather began to do something famous for our area of the Midwest.   It started to get COLD.  The shorts and cropped running pants had done just fine so far, but what now?  I’d already learned that the wicking material did wonders to stop the chub rub.  What to do about those frozen legs? 

Enter Coach Shelly:

Me:  What kind of gear am I going to need for the winter?  I don’t plan on dealing with that stinking treadmill unless I absolutely have to and I’m afraid I’ll lose my mind cooped up inside the gym all winter.

Shelly:  There are some things you’ll want, for sure. 

Friend [Anonymous friend, we’ll just call her Chris for this post, offering her thoughts]:  Hey, I like the treadmill and the gym.  Could do without that creepy gym guy, however.

Me:  I think all gyms must have a creepy gym guy.

[Random conversation about gyms, creeps, and other Very Important Girl Talk that ensues when girlfriends are having important conversation about things like Gear.]

Me:  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, what gear do I need to avoid the gym this winter and still keep training?

Shelly:  You’ll need a long sleeve wicking shirt made for cold weather, something for your head, gloves, and you’ll want some compression pants.

Me:  Compression pants?  Are ya kidding?  Like those skin-tight things that real runners wear?

Image Credit  (and before you ask, NO these are NOT my legs…Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.  No.)

Shelly:  [cheerily] Yes, those are the ones.

Me:  Um…No Way.  There is No Way I am putting this behind into something like that and running around my hometown terrifying innocent bystanders.  There could be an accident or something.  I would have to slither through the streets under cover of darkness.  I simply Couldn’t Do It. 

Shelly:  I know, they look terrible, but they work wonderfully and they are absolutely worth it.  They will allow you to run in very cold temperatures and there is zero chub rub with these things.

Me:  That is because they are SKIN TIGHT!

Shelly:  If you really had to, you would wear a pair of shorts over them.  Either way, it is something you really should consider. 

Me:  No.

Chris:  No.

Shelly:  Well, it’s up to you.  Maybe you’ll change your mind later.

I can tell you that I struggled against the compression pants for weeks and weeks.   Finally, I took the plunge and bought a pair of the hideous things.  I put off wearing them for a long, long time.  Always able to find a way to run when it was a little warmer. 

Then I found myself in 30 degree weather the morning of the Indianapolis 5K (yet another race that Chris had talked me into!) and there was no getting around the compression pants.  I pulled the suckers on and, grateful that I’d remembered to bring the little black shorts to yank on over the top, to protect the unsuspecting public, I ran my first race in the compression pants. 

And to my complete surprise, I had my Very Best Time Ever for a 5K.  The pants kept me warm without overheating.  And they didn’t rub or twist or bunch around.  These things were great! 

They still looked hideous, mind you.  But they were great! 

Since then, the hideous compression pants have become like an old friend.  They accompany me on most of my runs, especially when the temperature is under 40 degrees.  They’ve been on long runs and short runs, uphill and downhill, on the street and on the trail. 

If I get the nerve, I’ll find and post a picture of the Indy 5K compression pants maiden voyage here.   But it ain’t pretty.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

And I find myself, again surprised and saying:  Shelly, you were right!

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Poor HH.  He tries.  He really does. 

Thanksgiving is a Very Challenging Day for someone trying to lose weight.  And for me, it was my third day on Weight Watchers.  It was also a day I elected to go on a 10-mile run in the morning.  My master plan was to earn enough Activity Points to enjoy my feast guilt free.  Which indeed, I did.

So the Morning After the Thanksgiving Feast is always met with at worst, trepidation, and at best, curiosity.  At least by me.  And Friday morning is my weigh in day, so there wa no avoiding the trip to Scale City.

I got on the scale and…to my total delight, I’d LOST WEIGHT!  3.6 pounds.  Yippie!  In fact, I even lost weight over Thanksgiving Day, and I assure you, I ate plenty. 

Image Credit

Yes, I know that the first week or so of a new diet causes you to lose “water weight” and it’s not the same as losing actual blubber.  But remember, my master plan is to have less literal weight to carry around with me during my marathon in February.  It matters little whether I’m carrying 3.6 pounds of water or 3.6 pounds of fat or 3.6 pounds of pixie dust.  It takes more effort to carry 3.6 pounds of anything than it does to travel without it. 

So, delighted, I walk back into the bedroom and make my announcement to Happy Family.  Princess and Ninja were delighted, though they had the good sense to refrain from suggesting that we go out for Dairy Queen to celebrate. 

Helpful Husband was very happy for me.  In fact, HH was so happy that he had just a little short-circuit in the compliment-and-encouragement section of his brain.  Yes, he complimented me all right.  And you can be the judge as to whether it was better or worse than the last time.

Here’s how it went down:

HH:  Wow, honey.  That’s really great!  (This would have been a fine place for him to stop encouraging.)

Me:  Thanks!  I’m SO excited about it!

HH:  And you did all that in just three days.

Me:  Yes!

HH:  You know, you’ve lost more weight in the last three days than you did in over six months and almost 500 miles of running.

[Long pause as HH and I both ponder his last statement.  And his fate.]

Me:  Did you really just say that?

HH:  I was trying to compliment you.

Me:  Is that what that was?

HH:  I really am happy for you.

Me:  [sighing]  I know.  Thanks.

Epilogue:  In appreciation for this compliment, I spent the remainder of the day being Helpful Wife and announcing the point value of everything that HH was putting in his mouth.  It was the least I could do.  🙂

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***UPDATED at 3:25 PM CST***Scroll to bottom for Update***

 

sbWalkPlank[1]

Photo Credit

At some point in this running drama, I began to think that it might make a difference if my muscles actually were stronger.  That this difference might help me move along with more speed and efficiency. This is the kind of the difference between a cheetah and a walrus.  Walrus’s move, they just carry around a lot of extra, well, blubber.  So I figured, the more muscle, the less blubber.  And the more cheetah-like my running would eventually become. 

Nearly every training program recommends some form of strength or resistance training.  Actually, every program I’ve seen recommends this, however, I am still holding out hope that I may one day come across a program that can provide the strengthening results without the nasty resistance training. (This is the same part of me that hopes that money someday will grow on trees and the laundry someday will get up and do itself, mind you.)

Some people love weight training or resistance bands or sit-ups.  I am not one of these people.  But I have yet to find a short cut, and at some point I began to look for exercises that would help me be stronger, thereby making my runs more efficient and enjoyable (and less walrus-ish). 

A short while into my research, my friends Chris and Shelly were talking about this thing called The Plank.  Sounded like it belonged on a pirate ship with damsels in distress and sharks (as in “walk the _____”).  Since I prefer swimming only to drowning, this Plank thing really started out with some bad mental imagery for me. 

As it turns out, The Plank had nothing to do with water or pirates at all.  Chris explained that it was part of Pilates, which sounded like some kind of pastry to me, so I was getting pretty excited about the prospects at this point.  Sadly, Chris sent me an email with a link to a Plank video, and my hopes of abs-of-steel-through-pastry-eating were dashed.

I did try to find the Actual Video that Chris sent to me, but I’m sure that somehow I accidentally-on purpose deleted it.  Oopsie!  In any case, I’ve found another video that can share the joy of Plankdom with you:

Now this was pretty much consistent with the video that Helpful Chris sent to me.  Didn’t look too hard.  Not at all.  Easy-peasy.

What they didn’t show was the New Plankster.  The Plankster whose arms shook, whose sweat dripped of her forehead in buckets, whose stomach and fanny muscles wailed in pain.  And this was all after holding the position for a grand total of about four seconds. 

Now the exercise worked.  It was very fast and effective.  Which of course, explains exactly why I stopped doing it and resigned myself to more of a walrusy kind of running experience.  (Not really, but there’s no legitimate explanation at all, so I just made up a Ridiculous Response instead.) 

But things have changed now, and I’m afraid that I’m going to have to venture back to Plankdom and pick up where I left off. 

Since I’m actually going to Run A Marathon (there, I said it again!), I’m going to need all the cooperation from my body that I can get.  That includes my stomach, back and fanny muscles, which are now officially on notice that it’s time to get with the program. 

I predict The Plank Experiment will be a success.  And, other than unsightly character flaw of wanting to slap the woman in the video who can do the stinking exercise without so much as breaking a sweat, I’m sure that the effects of The Plank will be well worth the effort. 

And everyone will be happy.  Except perhaps for the walrus.  Who, quite frankly, can go plank itself.

[UPDATE:]

This just in.  An Actual Conversation heard in the Smith household today:

Helpful Husband (HH):  Great post, honey.  Are you, um, actually going to, um, start DOING that now?

Me:  (With a just a hint of sarcasm, flavored with my best June Cleaver tone) As opposed to what?  The way I’ve already been cooking up all those tasty recipes that everybody’s sent in? 

(Fact:  Haven’t even been to the grocery store yet.)

HH:  Oh, yeah.  Well, never mind. 

Determined to not have my hypocrisy underscored in my own household, I actually got down on the floor and did The Stupid Plank.  For 10 seconds.  Human seconds–not Violet the Cute Little Exercise Sadist Extra Long Seconds. 

And here’s what I’ve discovered:  when the stinky dog has been laying on your carpeting, right where you choose to do The Plank, it becomes So Much Easier to refrain from collapsing your exhausted body to the floor with your face in the carpet. 

The Moral of the Story:  There is something worse than The Plank.  It’s The-Plank-Over-Stinky-Dog-Carpet. 

The End.

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