Running Backwards — Part II

Welcome back to the world of the running!

I’m determined to stop having to start over every time I lace up my running shoes. So — just as any normal, sane, non-over analytical person would do — I’m looking back on my relationship with running to find out where we (me and running) got off track.

Disclaimer: This series of posts isn’t intended for any purpose other than to keep me from giving up, yet again. Because this serves as proof that through my running ups and downs, I am much less cranky when lace up on a regular basis.

Wondering what you’ve missed so far? Catch up on “Part I”!

I’m not sure what the bigger draw was for me — the actual running, or the fact that I COULD run and I WANTED to run. Almost more than I wanted to surf.

So as soon as I could comfortably knock out 5+ miles on the treadmill, I decided I was going to run outside. In public. On the boardwalk.

Half a mile later, I was toast.

Up until this point, all of my running had been done within the safety of the walls of my gym, on a softly humming contraption of plastic, rubber, and a digital display.

But I thought I was past the hard point. I was comfortably running 18+ miles each week at the gym. How could half a mile outside be so miserable?!

I didn’t get it.

My first summer of surfing

But what I did get was the joy and relief I felt at being in the water. After so many months of working my way back into running shape, I would be damned if I was going to have to start over just to run outside. Forget it. Instead I’d focus on my swimming, minimal surfing ability, heavy drinking talent, and soaking up every second of beach time as I could.

Circa 2007: Looks fun, right?!

Here we go again…

So I stopped running. For the first time.

It would take a few pounds and a fantastic gym buddy to get me to reconsider my abandonment of running.

But I did come around. Eventually.

And I started in a familiar spot. On a lone treadmill before heading into my kickboxing class.

Before long, I remembered how much I loved the soft hum of the treadmill and the rhythmic landing of my feet on the belt. I was coming back to life.

But no matter what my level of success was in the gym, the outdoor run still taunted me. So I avoided it at all costs. I didn’t want to lose my momentum again.

Gradually I completed my move from the city to the beach — with a brief stint in Brooklyn. Once living on the beach full-time, I realized maybe I could have it all. Surf whenever I wanted — or at least whenever I had the inclination to shove myself into a wetsuit. Swim whenever I wanted to get wet when there were no waves, and without having to haul my board down to the beach. Or run — or walk — whenever I wasn’t in the mood for either of the other options. But I had no treadmill to fall back on this time. I was on my own.

My new running path — who wouldn’t love this?!

And as could be expected, I lost my running mojo again. I would dabble in a run here and there. Mostly to beat away some random life annoyance. But it was nothing that would stick.

I’m not going to get my running legs back by sitting on the couch. Want to see where I’m at in my comeback? It’s all there on Dailymile.

Warning: it’s not pretty.

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Running Backwards — Part I

Welcome back to the world of the running!

Let me make one thing clear — I’m not a runner by nature, instead by influence and peer pressure (I’m looking at you Sara, Chanthana, Des, Heather, Shannon, Kate, Kevin, Sean, etc.). That being said, one of the best feelings I’ve ever known is stepping outside my door and taking off for a 3, 5, or even 8 mile run without any other thought, or care, in the world.

So why did I ever stop running? This is the question I’ve asked myself nonstop the last few months. And to get back to where I once was — and eventually move forward — I decided to take a look back at how I fell into running. Maybe then I can pinpoint where it — or I — fell apart.

And someday — when I get frustrated and miss a run or two — these posts will be here to remind me of exactly how far I’ve come and why I don’t really want to throw in the towel. Again.

Taking a look back…

Despite being on my high school’s track team — getting me to run any farther than 1 – 2 miles took the help of a higher power. Namely that of my throwing coach, Mr. Marchewka (aka “Chewk”) — who I swear stood 8 feet tall and at least 4 feet wide. Not the kind of guy you’d think to argue with — although that didn’t really stop me when it came time for our weekly team conditioning run. I’d rather spend my time running sprints, practicing jumps, working on my throws, in the weight room, even trying to nail down my hurdling — ANYTHING but a long run.

Loved my school — hated the workouts.
Photo: Crystal Lake-Cary Patch

And everything over 1 mile was something I considered a long run in those days.

Not surprisingly, my track days weren’t in my top 10 list of things I’d miss after I graduated. Heading off to a brand new fitness center at DePaul meant I could do whatever, whenever. Learn to play racquetball? Done. Start practicing yoga? Check. Kickboxing? Loved it. Club volleyball? But of course. Anything but lacing up my running shoes.

Fast forward a few years and a move to New York after my college graduation and I slowly got myself settled into a good routine — yoga, kickboxing, spin class, dance, circuit training. Nothing crazy — just consistent. But notice the one thing that doesn’t appear on that list? You got it. Running. I still wasn’t ready to go there.

And then one day it happened. See — the one thing I wanted more than anything was to surf. I’d been dreaming about surfing since I was a little girl growing up in the middle of a cornfield, as far removed from the ocean as you can be but with enough knowledge that it existed — somewhere — to make me want it. Bad. And here I was — finally, living on the coast with the ocean just a subway ride away.

All I ever wanted — at last.

And somehow — it was in my pursuit of living out my surfing dreams that I found my way back to running.

See — I had decided to restructure my regular training in order to best prepare for my upcoming summer on the beach and in the water. The biggest concern I had was my core. I even hired a personal trainer to get me through to Memorial Day weekend.

During our first session, my trainer asked me if there was anything I absolutely would not do. My response — “running”. No way, no how. She said okay and made a quick note on my evaluation forms.

But yet — just 3 short weeks later — I found myself on a treadmill going faster than 4 mph. Somehow, I had 15 minutes to warmup before my training session. There was more than one elliptical machine available, a couple of stairclimbers, as well as one or two stationary bikes open. But none of those seemed appealing. Instead, I walked over to the closest treadmill and started walking. A couple of minutes later, I decided I didn’t want to just walk and I turned up the speed. Just a light jog at first. And before I knew it, I was running full-out for at least 3 – 4 minutes before I noticed my trainer had arrived and was standing next to me. Laughing. I slowed myself down, stepped off the treadmill, and simply said “I don’t want to talk about it.” as we walked over to the mats.

A week later she asked me what changed, and I said I didn’t really know. I was bored and decided to give it a shot. And I enjoyed it.

Before long, I was heading out of work as fast as possible to snag a treadmill at the gym. And if I couldn’t, I’d rush home to claim one of the sad, outdated machines in my building’s “fitness center”. Anything to get my run in. Every mile I ran and every second I knocked off my any previous run made me feel just a little bit more alive.

And that was the start of my return to running. My first return to running, anyway.

Ready to run!

Coming “Clean” — But Why?

The spring cleaning bug has me rolling on all cylinders. It started with organizing my desk, then my bookshelves, and then the pantry, and then dusting off my workout gear. My weights, yoga mat, Bosu ball, boxing gloves. I’m truly ashamed to admit how dusty they have all become over time. It’s more than enough to make it clear that something needs to change — my habits and my mindset. And if I want these changes to stick over the long-term, I need to really define the “Why?” behind making the changes.

When it comes to my health and fitness — defining a “Why?” should be easy. Right?

Wrong.

Is it about looks or all of the clothes that are now too small? Maybe. But I’ve been down that road before, and a smaller jean size doesn’t buy happiness outright. There is more to it than that.

Is it because I’m staring down the barrel of my 30th birthday? Maybe. But what will happen after the big birthday comes and goes? I don’t want to be facing 4-0 in the same place.

Is it because I feel like I’m stuck on pause while my friends and family are busy with weddings, babies, buying homes, making their last school loan payment while I’m just adding to mine? Maybe. But none of that is really about me. I’m really am happy for their successes and joys and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The one thing I keep coming back to is that I miss my old life — the running, the surfing (ok — maybe that was more paddling and wiping out than surfing but still…), the yoga, the spinning, the hiking, the Wednesday nights playing beach volleyball by sunset. Part of me wants to resent my move to Boston because it forced me to give up my access to most of those things. But the truth is — if I really want to, there’s a way to do all of it here. It’s just going to take a little more work than it used to.

I may never get over the peace of being able to walk 20 steps out my front door and being able to run along the ocean for as many miles as my legs would carry me. And I’ll never forget those few months I could roll over in bed and watch the waves break, while I tried to drag my butt downstairs and into a wetsuit.

But there is nothing stopping me from making the short 10-minute walk down to the beachfront running path here. And there is nothing stopping me from teaming up with friends here that already surf to make the trek to the shore. And there is nothing stopping me from getting up 30 minutes earlier each morning to make some time for yoga. And there is certainly nothing stopping me from treating my stomach like a glorified garbage dump.

I know it’s completely unreasonable to expect perfection right out of the gate, but each new day is an opportunity to practice living as clean and healthy as possible. And you know that saying, “practice makes perfect”? One day at a time, I will work to make the changes that I need in order to get the results I want to see. And while I may never be 100% “perfect”, I’ll be damned if I’m not giving it one helluva try.

What is the first step you take when you need to “clean” things up a bit?

Where’s the Reset Button?

You know those days where you wake up and you just know that you are going to wish you had a reset button? And then that one day turns into a week. And that week turns into a month, and so on.

Before you know it, you feel like you’re stuck in the middle of wet concrete that has started to harden. And you know the longer you stand there, the less chance you have of ever getting free. But yet, you also can’t figure out the next best move so you just stay there. Stuck. And sinking.

It starts with a missed run. And then a skipped yoga class. And then it becomes easier to just order dinner in because it was too hot to cook or you didn’t have any food in the house because you just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) manage to get to the store. And ordering dinner in for one night didn’t make any sense – if you are going to pay a delivery fee, you may as well get enough for two or three meals. And since you’re missing workouts and ordering in, you definitely aren’t going out anywhere. And then it just becomes almost too easy to bail on plans. And then you realize it’s been a while since your phone has rung with a friend wanting to get together at all and any previous plans just never materialized.

And you try hard to fight the resentment you start to feel toward your friends, even though you know in your head that there’s really no one to blame but yourself. Sure there were conversations they could have been handled better, phone calls/text messages/emails/etc. that could have been returned more promptly, but it’s a two-way street. And it’s not up to them to pull you out of this funk.

Because there is no magic reset button. There’s only the option of getting off your butt and putting on your big kid pants and facing the music. You’re never going to be as good as you once were if you don’t move your a**. Suck it up, have the hard conversations, fight like mad for the things that are worth it. Just do something, anything. Because the truth is that it’s never going to be easier and there is never going to be a better time than now.

So what are you going to do about it?

Getting Back to My Basics…

With everything else going on right now, the one thing I’ve been able to take advantage of is the opportunity to be able to really think about where I came from, family that raised me, where I’ve been so far, the friends I’ve made, along with some of the places I still want to go and people I still want to meet.
When I think about how I grew up, one of the things I keep going back to is food. The growing of it, supplying it, cooking with it, discussing it, sharing it, and simply enjoying it. Growing up on a farm outside of Chicago, the one thing that always brought our family together was food:

    ✦ Daily lunches with my dad and grandpa, listening to Paul Harvey and the commodity commentary while eating whatever my 5-year old hands could make – those were the days of a lot of macaroni & cheese and canned green beans

    ✦ The treat of fresh asparagus picked from our ditches the same day

    ✦ Those 3 – 4 sweet weeks each summer that I was able to spend picking and gorging myself on the most delicious black raspberries that grew wild all over our barnyard

    ✦ Getting in the crop of sweet corn that my grandpa planted each year just for me to sell to earn my spending money for the Sandwich Fair

    ✦ Joining my grandpa and dad on the trips to butcher/meat locker in Earlville to take in that season’s pork bellies, the product of which either stocked our deep freeze or was traded for a side of beef from the neighbor down the road

    ✦ That unbelievable smell of dried corn cobs on the grill – to this day, I’ve never found a better burger than those grilled up over those cobs

    ✦ Climbing up into the fort my grandpa built in our main apple tree, or hiding out under our giant weeping mulberry bush, to read and daydream

    ✦ Sitting with my great-grandmother for our daily afternoon coffee and cookies

    ✦ Waiting in anticipation to see what treats my great-uncle would bring out from the city for our holiday
    dinners – the biggest shrimp I’d ever seen and fresh shark steaks were my favorites

    ✦ The jars of homemade black raspberry jam my grandpa hid under the Christmas tree every year from the time Smuckers started the "seedless only" crap (that’s another soapbox) up until the year he passed away

I could go on forever listing memories that somehow connect my family and food. So I am starting to understand why, when everything else around seems to be up in the air, I always go back to food for comfort and to help put some pieces in place.

As I read through the list above, there are other key themes that stick out: food, family, farming, locally grown, seasonal/fresh produce, self-supporting community and education.

All of which help to explain why new recipes and food finds are a part of every phone call with my dad, going to the farmer’s market always makes me giddy, the idea of a community food swap inspires me, and supporting local farmers and business simply makes sense.

Because it’s how I was raised and an inherent part of who I am today.

So going forward, please don’t be surprised by the amount of recipes and cooking stories, drooling over restaurants and menus, and other random food-related excitement that I will be sharing. It’s just how us "Chicago[land] Fat Kids" roll and it’s about time I owned it.

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