Mad ups for calf muscles, Mad downs for mile times

This morning, NPR had a great story about habits and how they can be made, broken and remade.  I won’t go into too much detail (you can see and listen for yourself here), but the bottom line was that a change in somebody’s day-to-day environment is one of the biggest catalysts in forming or breaking habits.  When you think about it, it totally makes sense.  For example, when I was working at Starbucks, a day without some kind of sugary espresso drink was like a car without headlights.  Now, I think the last time I had anything resembling said drink was about two months ago.

This may not really be an environmental change, but I’ve decided to completely change the way I run.  It might sound excessive to do something like that.  I’ve been running since high school and have already run a half marathon successfully.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it- right?

Actually, it is broke friends.  And fixing it is turning out to be absorbing enough that the work-out has become less about just going through the motions and more about opening up the possibility of improvement.

I had severe asthma until about 10th grade, which is when I started running.  Even though my asthma mostly went away, probably in large part to the fact that I was running so often, I’d almost always run at about 60 percent of my capacity.  It was self protection at first, a natural fear of, well..death.. and a muscle memory of running triggering major attacks.  Over the years though, problems with breathing haven’t been an issue and I’ve been pushing myself harder.  Despite that fact, my times have not improved.  I’ve tried working harder, trying to stretch my short Irish legs until they punished me, but I was starting to get used to the fact that I was just slow and there was nothing to be done about it.

The big duh moment came when my husband convinced me to check out the book Fit that he got through his adventures in weightlifting (you can check out his blog here) and as I read it this fact became glaringly obvious: I’m not slow because I have short legs.  I’m slow because I heel-strike.

And if you’re not already judging me, here’s why that’s embarrassing: it literally makes you slower, almost to the point that you’re moving slightly backward with every step.

This is not new science, folks.

Okay “moving backward” might be an exaggeration.  To quote Fit “The analysis of this technique’s effect on running performance has been in the professional literature for more than 50 years- ‘An athlete who runs on his heels (permits his heels to contact the ground first as he strides) is causing the center of gravity to fall behind his contact foot and thus is creating a retarding effect’ (Bunn, J.W. Scientific principles of Coaching).”  Yeah, that was written in 1955.  I watched every good runner I know run on the balls of their feet.  I allowed myself the technique on uphills from the beginning of my running-life and would always speed up remarkably when I did so.  What the heck was wrong with me that I’d never put this together?

Curse you, survival mode!

Running was “not my thing” and so the fact that I could manage the distance had always been enough for me in the past.  It was embarrassing to be in last place so often and it whacked me right in the competitive spirit to be passed by all variety of runner over and over again, but I’d console myself by thinking about how good I was at other things.  That girl might be effortlessly coasting past me, but could she sing German lieder?  Doubt it!  Now my attitude is something closer to, “If you’re not willing to give it your best then why are you doing it?”

My calf muscles are really, really sore now.  The gentlemen who wrote Fit estimate that it takes about 3 months to get used to running in this different form, a time period in which the Ventura Half-Marathon is plopped right in the middle.  I’ll probably still be sore and getting my bearings, but even after just two weeks I am already running significantly faster at about the same level of effort.  And I can already tell how I’ll be able to move in order to go even faster.  I never really pictured myself as a “contender” per se in this arena, but now I’m starting to feel like a real runner and not just someone trying to get a work-out over with.

Maybe my environment isn’t so different, but the new way of doing things and the new possibility of really improving is making running a pretty easy habit to re-make.

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January first doesn’t reeeally count, does it?


So in making this a more blatantly health-oriented blog, I made absolutely sure to start from square one.  Read: New Year’s Eve Party with no shortage of bubbly and macaroni and cheese.  Read: I’ve spent the entire day in my house with my dog, a bottle of Gatorade and my head-cold stricken husband.  I would feel horrible about the wasted day, were tomorrow not also a day off in which I could get those vitally-important-things-for-New-Year’s-success done.

There have been several things over the last few months that I’ve been changing so the resolutions have been more on-going.  I’m not terribly different from anyone else in my list of resolutions and as mentioned before, I’ve learned the hard way about forgiving myself for slip-ups.

The only way that I find I can meet abstract goals like “getting fit” is to make concrete and external goals.

So I’ve signed up for:
-The Ventura Half-Marathon on February 12th
-The Wine-Country Half-Marathon on May 12th

And by the end of the month I’ve got to register for the San Diego Marathon (before the price goes up on January 31st).  With those things already paid for, not-training and getting in shape will be frankly embarrassing.

My check-list experience is forming a pretty good model for all those other tasks I want to get accomplished: studying Spanish more often (I’ve hired a tutor and am improving), working more with Connor on training stuff (he’s becoming a more and more agreeable walking-buddy) and writing more (I submitted to my first writing contest since 8th grade this past week).

After being in survival mode for so long, I’ve got this opportunity to start making and following through with goals.  After working so hard just to become a normally functioning person with an established routine, I’m looking forward to actually going for “making dreams come true” this year.

Forgive me if I don’t chastise myself for waiting for my headache to go away first.

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Gotta love a good setback

To quote Chris Traeger, “The microchip has been compromised.”

Whereas most instances in which I throw up, I can somehow blame it on an undue amount of alcohol or cheese the last couple of days have been an entirely different story.  On one side, being exempt from blame and self-reproach is kind of invigorating–at least when it’s not *literally* debilitating.

This floor is my friend.

There’s nothing that will throw off even the most naturally upbeat of people into depressed slugs like a good case of the stomach flu.  Anything that derails a schedule can send one reeling tail over toes into the vacuum of space.

Keeping a good state of mind when ill is difficult, but an opportunity to draw skills from other areas of life in which plans come apart.  The easiest example relates to diet.  A huge risk when trying to adhere to a healthy diet is…well…not adhering.  Let’s say I forget to make myself lunch for the day at work.  I drive-thru somewhere between presentations and get a cheeseburger.  Of course, with that I have to get a huge sugary Dr. Pepper.  And I think, well today is screwed already–might as well get pizza tonight and have a few beers.

In the world of “Go Big or Go Home” that is accurate logic.  For those of us who would like to acknowledge the possibilities in between, not so much.  It’s fully possible to totally splurge on something and then later compensate with more healthful possibilities without completely ruining your calorie split.

By extension, the moderation approach is absolutely invaluable when it comes to setbacks like illness or injury.

With a “Go big or go home” attitude, I imagine that if I am unable to do anything then all my plans and routines are officially derailed.  That way, as time progresses, even if my capacity to do some things returns, I feel discouraged because I’m not able to do everything.  Yesterday I could do very little.  All I could do was read my book, so I did that.  Today I wasn’t back 100%, but I was back about 70%.  Therefore, I knew I probably shouldn’t run several miles after work.  However, rather than “go home”, but I was able to wake up at a reasonable hour, make myself look nice, walk to work, work the full shift then walk back home.  These are accomplishments I don’t take for granted, remembering the anxiety I used to feel about leaving the house at all.  Another thing I did to fight off the setback-depression-beast was focus on fitness goals by signing up for my second half-marathon.  Instead of chastising myself for not being 100% already, I reminded myself that this flu would pass just like everything else.

Going big has its place, but it’s dangerous counterpart is “going home”, and often that’s just not necessary.  When it comes to living with illness–chronic and intermittent alike–all you can do is all you can do.  So if you can do something then you probably should, without worrying that you can’t do everything.

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Getting my shiz together: part 1

Why does this keep happening to me??

This afternoon I came home from work and changed into my jeans to take the hound for a walk.  As I contemplated how much easier pretty much everything is getting in my life, everything before my eyes went pitch dark.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen.  I had once again put my hooded sweatshirt on backwards.

Things like this happen a lot, and when my head is not on completely straight, I get the warped idea that it only happens to me because I’m a major screw-up.  Leaving the gate unlocked, putting meat particles in the compost, buying something retail that I could’ve gotten at a fraction online.  These can be major problems, you guys.  Today, though, good mood that I was in, the only setback was that I had to take a minute or two to belly-laugh at myself.  Laughing at oneself takes time, and I now view it as an acceptable setback.

As readers of previous posts know, I am not a victim-blamer.  Regardless of how good or meticulous of a person one is–or even how horrible of a person one is, awful things happen to us that we do not deserve.  If these things are perpetrated against us by other people or befall us as random accidents or “mysterious ways” (depending on your worldview), miserable things happening to us is an inevitability of life.

That said, many of us, particularly those of us habituated by problems with brain chemistry, have a tendency to perpetrate the misery against ourselves.  Sometimes it comes in the form of fixating on all the inconvenient things that happen to us (someone cuts us off in traffic, the drain backs up) and ignoring the rest of our day that mostly falls into place.  Sometimes it comes in the form of personalizing the horrors happening in the rest of the world (our political system is a sideshow, unemployment is at an all time high and isn’t looking to get better) even if we have decent jobs, are living in relative comfort and aren’t directly effected by the troubling policies going into effect in other states in the US.

Loving ourselves and our lives from wherever we happen to be is a difficult mandate doled out from on high by Tibetan monks, John Lennon’s quote-book and the sages of our personal lives.  It’s enough to make those of us with short fuses want to throw our desk chairs through a window.  In an effort to be less cynical and try to comply with the mandate, I’m creating steps for myself that will help me see each day individually, and hopefully–in accumulating good days–have a good and meaningful life.  A helpful and practical first step: creating a daily list of must-dos.

When it's all done, I might even put it on the refrigerator!

That’s right, I made myself a lowdown first-grader sticker chart.  And NO, it’s not for potty training.  There are always things that we feel like we should be doing but are not.  When we’re out running on the track, we feel like we should be re-connecting with old friends we haven’t spoken with in awhile.  When we’re having dinner with our parents, we feel guilty that we haven’t finished reading a book in over a month.  This attitude can lead to emotional flooding and has to be broken down somehow.

To start out, I distilled my daily must-do’s to five things: walking Connor, working out, doing the dishes, practicing Spanish and writing.  I fill out each box with a Sharpie, and if I accomplish everything I want to during the day I give myself a sticker.  This isn’t something that works for everyone (some people find it, frankly, humiliating), but being able to see how much I’m doing really helps me organize my time and helps me work toward my goals.

Now that I’m keeping this chart, it’s getting a lot easier for me to keep track of other things in my life (I’ve logged into every day for over a week–ROOKIE BADGE FTW) and to keep my schedule accordingly.  Yes I learned these skills when I was a child, and yes I had to take myself “back to kindergarten” just like when I train my wacky hound.  The chart has also been helpful in tracking the days when I’m having a hard time with anxiety or depression–that way I have a visual reminder that life doesn’t always suck.

There are myriad things that I wish I had time to do every day and not all of them are on my chart.  However, my goal is to have at least 5 days a week in which I’m getting them all done and then I’ll maybe add one or two more of the things that I love to do in addition to that.

Call it juvenile, if you choose, but it’s working for me pretty well so far.




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When I see things like this story of a teacher bullying his own students and am absolutely unsurprised, I know that my level of nihilism is spiking to unforeseen levels.  It also makes it less desirable for me to post anything–once you’ve been cyber-stalked, judged and ridiculed by people you thought cared about you it kind of ruins the fun of sharing.  The only thing that can make that situation worse is to endure it along with a maelstrom of brain chemicals and adrenaline swirling around at every upwelling of interpersonal sewage.

Just to update from a post back in July, treating my depression with diet and supplements didn’t really work, especially with the high velocity at which my life was changing (and still is).  My priority through the whirlwind was staying ahead of it, which didn’t involve much more than day to day survival.  Functioning was hard enough without the added responsibility of pursuing a regimen of positive thinking and filling my days with more and more “enriching” activities.  Me and Netflix streaming have been really tight.

The thing is, being as open and honest as I can about my life (without being crude or vicious) helps me sleep at night.  While sometimes my illness made me question why I cared about anything at all, those values haven’t left me and I’ve been standing up to anything that threatens them–especially my own negative thought loops.

Climbing out of the mess that started several years ago has taken all year and as of right now I’m still not finished.  I’ve given medication another shot and its appearing to be a great idea.  I heard this interview with Darrell Hammond where he opened up about his mental health issues (a lot of it based on abuse that he suffered as a child, which the interviewer really enjoyed repeating over and over).  During the interview, he said “some of the sanest people I know are on Wellbutrin.”  While my mom is pretty rad and most definitely never stuck my fingers into electrical outlets, I am also taking Wellbutrin now.  Almost immediately, the effect was like holding onto the low end of a drape pull as the curtains opened, and suddenly rising higher than I thought I could ever be.

It didn’t make everything perfect, but it did bring me out of catatonia so that I can actually pinpoint what negative thought patterns were based in brain chemistry or based in habit.  It’s still something I’m struggling with, but I’m already taking better care of Connor and better care of myself.  I’m enjoying time with my family instead of bracing myself for strife.  I’m waking up earlier, losing weight and building strength.  I’m writing more and am seeing irrational hang-ups as just that.  The best part is that the impulses telling me that I’m useless and that nothing matters are now the quiet ones who are shewed away by the healthier and more pragmatic thoughts.

At the risk of being gooey–the most unbelievable part of all of this is that my husband believed in me even during this whole debacle, enough that he actually married me in the thick of it.  Other people might think very little of me, perhaps because our worldviews clash or perhaps out of a lack of empathy, but somehow this guy believes that I’m going to be healthy again and become that loving and capable person that I’ve been fighting so hard to be.  He might even have me convinced.

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Why watching horror movies will make you a better rape prevention educator

I love horror movies.  ADORE them.  Seriously, while most young women watch a Norah Ephron joint or something featuring Audrey Hepburn when they’ve had a bad day, I watch The Last Exorcism or Scream 3.  That’s right.  They aren’t even high budget, “good” scary movies most of the time.  If it’s far fetched, full of tropes, cliches and cheap thrills.  I.  Will.  Watch It.  The only thing that keeps me from watching them more often is the fact that my husband can’t stand them (except, I will grant him this: Sleepaway Camp…because nobody can resist its wiles).  In the end, I’m more likely to lose sleep over a documentary about food safety or a drama about immigration.  If you don’t believe that, would you believe I almost had a panic attack after watching Knocked Up?  If you wouldn’t just go ahead and keep thinking that, kthx..

I know.  How do I live with myself?  How can I stand a form of film that is notorious for slut shaming and exploitation of women and promotes violent voyeurism?  Disgusting!  Well, on one hand you have a point.  On the other hand you might have a freckle on your thumb?  Also, if you have an open mind and some imagination, as well as a strong stomach and an ability to emotionally detach (and I hope for your sake–particularly if you are in social services–that you do) you might be able to see what I see.  Granted, I did not begin to watch horror movies for a noble reason.  In fact I’m pretty sure it was to prove how awesome I was to some people that I’ve forgotten about.  Noble?  Not really.  But true.

The crazy thing is, I have found that horror movies have been a crux of my sexual assault prevention presentations.  And no, it’s not because I’m employing the rules of How to Survive a Horror Movie as a form of risk reduction.  It’s because I have seen more light bulbs go on than EVER when I broach the subject of victim blaming by using the horror genre.

guess you shouldn't have invited your boyfriend over...

Think about it.  What do we say when we’re watching Halloween or Friday the 13th?  “Don’t go in there!”  “Oh no, she’s wearing a sexy nightgown she’s doomed!”  “Don’t drink that beer!”  “Don’t have sex in the caaaar!”  It even gets more absurd the higher the stakes get.  When people watch any movies featuring Freddy Krueger, they even begin to say “Don’t go to sleep!”  I argue that people tend to use these same methods to blame rape victims for what happens to them.  Have they ever lied about something?  Stolen something?  Do they have a shady past of any kind?  Doomed.  Doomed.  Doomed.  I’d even say we use the same arguments, even those more reprehensible features of the horror genre related to race (the black guy always gets it right away).  We know from the Strauss-Kahn debacle over the summer how hard it is for people who aren’t white and flat-chested to get justice in a sexual assault case; in horror movies, the final girl is almost invariably a white brunette who doesn’t have sex or drink and has almost boyish features.  And if you think that “don’t go to sleep” doesn’t apply, you’re in for a very sad surprise.

If you do watch horror movies, though, you know that even when the characters know the rules the director finds a way to kill them off anyway.  The people in my presentations seem to get that as well.  In the end, no matter how “good” a person is, there’s still a chance that they can be victimized–especially when the numbers are as high as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men assaulted over the course of their lives.  Which is a perfect ambient noise killer.  And a perfect segue into a discussion of bystander intervention and changing a culture that turns away from victims into one that steps in and helps out.  Which turns something that can be highly offensive and unrealistic into a tool for understanding how to empathize with real human beings.  Which I think is redemptive.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to peruse Netflix streaming for something atmospherically terrifying.  Happy Halloween!

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