The Easy Way

I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, because, truthfully, many of my thoughts have not been ready for prime time.  I’ve been working with Medicare/Medicaid/Insurance agents trying to figure out the best plan of action for my dad, who is in a nursing home and has very limited funds with which to purchase his medication. I’m still finding red tape in my hair.

Dad currently takes 17 different meds, interspersed with various other seasonal meds to help with allergies, cough, etc.  That’s right, I said 17.  Big gun medications.  And expensive.  How did it come to this point?  This will not be a blog post about health insurance and how our entire insurance/medical system is broken (even though it is).  It’s about something much closer to home than that.  Your body.

It started innocently enough.  My dad had a heart attack at a very young age (46) in a time when surgery, then long term meds were the method of the day.  Those meds led to side effects which required different meds to counteract.  He was of a generation who fully trusted the medical community to not only heal him, but to make his life easy & pain free.  I don’t think he consciously thought that, but deep down, he believed that these miracle meds would allow him to be better than the man he was before.

Years ago, I had a wicked bout with depression.  It’s part of my heritage, I remember my grandfather struggling with it when I was a young teen.  I got on an anti-depressant which was prescribed to me, and, sure enough, I felt better soon.  But, I hated the side effects and the way they made me feel.  So, I began to experiment with other, non-invasive, non-toxic ways to combat the depression.  That’s when running became a part of my life.  It was SOOO much easier to take a pill every night than it was to work a run in, but running became my new anti-depressant anyway. So, I threw away the meds and embraced that natural high.   I LOVE the way running makes me feel, and it is a natural combatant to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, the list goes on and on.  It’s still a struggle to find time to run, but ask my family (particularly my hubby) how much they like me when I’m not running.  Even the dog avoids me.

Don’t shoot me just yet.  Is there a need for medication in our society? YES!  There is a definite need for anti-depressants.  There are many people who absolutely need them to function at times in their lives.  I think it is entirely appropriate to do that, but I also think there needs to be an active movement by the medical community to encourage people to also incorporate more natural remedies into their lives and step down dosages when they are able to do so.

I picked depression simply because it’s something I’ve dealt with. The same principle applies to so many other illnesses as well.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.  All very serious illnesses, all of which can be treated with diet and exercise very effectively.

I’m not saying to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Medicine plays a very important role in our lives.  I take an antibiotic when I need one, and this time of year finds me reaching for Benadryl to get me through the day.   I’m saying be more diligent.  Don’t just take the pill because it’s the easy, fast way. Do your research.  Ask questions.  Don’t take a life-time sentence of medication at face value.

God gave us one body to last throughout our lives.  What have you done with yours?  Is it glorifying Him?  He never told us it would be easy.  It’s usually the opposite of that.  Being healthy is a full time job.  Easy? No.  Of kingdom importance?  Without doubt.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  1 Corinthians 3:16

Motivation

Motivation is a fickle friend.  She comes and goes at her whim, and never seems to be there when you really need her.  When you first begin a workout/training program, she’s there everyday, cheering you on, getting you up in the morning, encouraging you, singing in your ear.  But, time marches on and she begins to sleep in, and she encourages you to, also.

When you decide to workout/train for life, motivation is probably not your best friend.  Better teammates are discipline and resolve. I know there are many mornings (especially cold ones), when snuggling up with my man under the covers is a LOT more appealing than putting on my running gear and slapping on my shoes.  After months, then years, of committed running, motivation hasn’t just left the building, she’s on an extended cruise around the world and won’t be back in the foreseeable future.  So, how do you make yourself run when the fun has worn off?  Make it fun again.

I motivate myself in different ways.  The most important thing I do each year is set goals for that year.  This year’s goal are:  1)Run the New York City marathon in November (it will be my first full marathon).  2) Lose twenty pounds by race day.  With running, I think it’s important to add racing to your goal setting, this really helps focus your efforts and gives you a specific distance and time to work toward.  With new runners (and first time half or full marathoners), don’t set a specific time goal.  Make sure your race is walker friendly, and let your goal be to finish.

Another really easy way to re-energize your runs is to add variety to your workout.  I love discovering new places to run, running trails instead of roads, and running in cities that I visit.  Gary and I were in Natchez earlier this week on business, and of course we ran that beautiful city.  If you travel on business, take your gear to run outside, don’t just plop on the hotel treadmill.  I’ve run almost everywhere we’ve ever travelled.  Keep safety in mind, run with someone if possible,  ask the concierge where there are safe running trails in the area, don’t close off your ears with headphones, and be super vigilant about where you are at all times. Also, make sure someone knows when you’re leaving and what time you should return.   That said, I’ve run by myself in Central Park in NYC at 5 am with no problems (one of my favorite runs).  Also, add variety by cross training.  As the weather gets better, jump on a bike, swim in a lake, rent a kayak, go roller skating or disco dancing (do they still do that?), take a yoga class, just move your body for the same amount of time you would spend in a run.   You’ll be amazed how much it will invigorate your desire to be in better shape.

Don’t count on that mountain high that a new program brings to last and carry you through the rest of your life.   Real discipline comes when you really don’t want to do it, but you do it anyway.  I constantly ask God to give me His discipline, because, as in all things, I can’t, but God can.  

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
1 Corinthians 9:23-25 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 9 (Whole Chapter)

Why and how?

As I posted in my first blog post, The Rest of Us, I’m not an elite runner, nor do I aspire to be.  I’m a professional photographer and business owner whose passion is running.  But, like my passion for photography, the desire to improve and be the best runner I can be has lead me to dig deep to find out how to be that person.  At one time, I was a photographic hobbyist, but God planted a desire to go further in my heart and lead me to some wonderful teachers and opened doors to allow that to grow into my profession.  I spent many hours and much money (and continue to do so) studying with the country’s best and brightest photographers in order to improve my skills and become a professional.  I bring a lot of that same passion to running.  I want to be the best I can be, while knowing this will never be a profession for me.  The good news is, it’s much simpler and less costly to improve my running skills than it has been to improve my photographic skills.

The two things I’m asked most often is why I run & how do you start.  I’ll answer the why first.  I love the way running makes me feel.  Don’t misunderstand that.  I didn’t say I love how running feels.  The truth is, it hurts more often than not.  That runner’s high you hear about all the time?  Yeah, with me, not so much.  Maybe on race day, seldom on training runs.  It’s how I feel when I’m done that keeps me going back again and again.  Focused, strong, fit, bulletproof.  Like I’ve really accomplished something.  I love that.  So, that’s what I seek.  I love being almost 50 and knowing that I can outlast most 20 somethings I know.  I also run because my husband and I lead very active lifestyles that don’t lend themselves to being out of shape.  We’re avid scuba divers, we hike, bike, swim,  and generally love all things that allow us to be outdoors and enjoy God’s amazing creation.  So, I run to keep up with my man.  He’s pretty fierce.  Especially for an old dude.

The second question is how do I start?  A lot depends on your level of fitness when you begin.  I’ve run off and on since my mid 30’s, but was unable to maintain a constant level of training until 2 years ago.  That’s when I decided to train smart.  Getting older does have its benefits, learning from unfortunate past experience is one of them.  I started strength training with a personal trainer and worked with her for about a year, building my strength and getting a running base established.  (Love you Michelle Banks!!) Then, it was off to the races.  I ran and trained and raced all last year, paying careful attention to my body and adding stretching (even though I HATE that) to each run.  This year, as I look forward to the NYC marathon in November, I’ve added weekly yoga, massage, and chiropractic to my routine.

Don’t think that you’ll start running this week and run a marathon by the end of the year.  You can definitely walk one if you train for it, and there are a lot of walker friendly races around.  Start small, run for time goals (30 minutes to start), and gradually build up.  Find someone knowledgeable to help you add strength training and balance to your routine.

The good news is: running is simple.  Not a lot of eye/hand coordination involved.  Thank God.  The bad news is: distance running takes time to build to.  That’s not really bad news, we’re just a nation of instant gratification junkies who think it is.  But, that’s another post.

“We are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2:10

Keeping the faith when the numbers get you down

I’m not a scale hopper.  I weigh infrequently, having learned ages ago that keeping up with numbers is contrary to my purposes and really messes with my mental conditioning.  However, part of my journey this year does involve actually losing weight, as opposed to the past couple of years, when my focus was on getting back to an active running program.  So, out comes the dreaded scale.  I still can’t bring myself to it weekly, but I’m working on it.

I laughed yesterday when I read a facebook post by a friend who weighed and was up 2.6 lbs. after having steadily dropped a pound a week for the least several weeks, bringing her right back where she started.  I didn’t laugh at her, I laughed because that is the exact amount I was up this week also!  My husband, who happened to come into the room right after I weighed, did the weather report on my face, & very diplomatically said how much thinner I looked this week. Ha!  Not for nothing has this man been happily married for 30 years.  Despite his sweet, untrue words, though, a simpler truth jumped out at me.  That number really doesn’t matter.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that the scale is a reference point, but it’s not a true barometer of my overall health and fitness.

The simple truth is, I feel good.  I like how running makes me feel, and the numbers will move when they move.  I don’t diet anymore. I hope I never do again.  I do eat for fuel now, as opposed to eating for mood control.  I’m careful about everything I take in, because I’ve finally learned (after many, many years of  knowing, but not doing) that I am what I eat.  My runs are so deeply affected by my eating patterns that they are a much better barometer of my fitness level than the scale.

Staying motivated is always a challenge.  Particularly when you don’t think you’re making progress.  I’m learning to look at the big picture now, it’s a slow process, but it’s an important step in my overall mental/physical/emotional fitness.

What happened to that scale?  Well, we needed a new one anyway.

“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust.  Follow anything that makes you want to do right.  Pursue faith and love and peace, and enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.”  2 Timothy 2:22

Learning to listen to your body

I typically do a “long” run on Saturday morning as part of my training.  As my training progresses, the runs become longer each week, culminating in a 25 mile run before tapering back down to run the marathon.  When I was training in my 30’s, I trained strictly by the book, following my training plan exactly with no variations, no allowance for injury.  This did not make for a happy runner. I had not yet learned to listen to my body and heed its warnings, and as a result, suffered some injuries that were completely unnecessary.  

The beauty of being an older runner is that I have finally learned to listen to those aches and pains that tell me something is off.  Yesterday’s “long” run is a perfect example. Friday was a rest day for me, but I wore some heels that I don’t normally wear & my feet and legs really didn’t care for them.  They looked amazing, but they felt achy by about hour 5 of the heels.  So, Saturday, my feet and legs were groaning and complaining as we began a planned 65 minute run.  So, I listened to what they were telling me and the run became a run/walk, emphasis on walk.  I didn’t go as far as I wanted (5 miles as compared to the 6 I wanted), but my legs thanked me, and in the long run, they’ll be better off, giving back exponentially to what they’ve received.

Taking care of your body, stretching, listening to aches and pains, and realizing training plans aren’t written in stone are all part of the training process.  Especially for an older runner.  I’ve added yoga to my weekly workouts, and my body is truly thanking me, particularly my hips.

I am still building mileage in order to begin actual marathon training at the end of April. This week’s total mileage was 21 miles, some of which were walking miles.  I’m not pounding all these miles on, choosing instead to ease my legs into some of them.  I’m thankful that age is bringing wisdom along with all these wrinkles.

“I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.”  Philippians 3: 13-14

Living life on purpose: I can’t, but God can

A few Sundays ago, our pastor gave a very inspiring message in his continuing series on living life on purpose.  He used the story of Esau & Jacob and how Esau gave his birthright away for a simple bowl of stew.  Stupid, huh?  Yet, I do that all the time.  I give away my life, my health, my longevity for brief moments of gratification.  As I learn to live life on purpose, to find faith and fitness, I want to quit giving away my birthright.  The ability to live a long, healthy, fit life, filled with loving relationships and satisfying work. A life filled with appreciation of beauty and the ability to enjoy it.  That’s my birthright.  It’s yours, too.  
I read an article in Runner’s World this month that surprisingly melded into Dr. Clark’s message.  It was on developing a mantra to help you when you are running distances, or trying to overcome a difficult stage in any run/race.  Many champion runners do this and some of their inspirational mantras were listed.  The article encourages you to develop your own mantra, and even offers some guidelines and a little chart for developing the best mantra for you.  I’ve played with the chart a little and came up with some lame ones, like: “Be strong, run long,” and “Be fierce, feel bold,” but nothing really seemed to click.  I loved the truth of Sean Downey’s, “Fast or slow, it hurts just the same,” but didn’t feel terribly inspired by it.  Well, maybe a little.  Anyway, Dr. Clark had us all repeat a very simple truth the morning of the Esau message.  “I can’t, but God can.”  

Now, this flies slightly in the face of the Runner’s World article, using negativity about self, but it is exactly the mantra that fits my running.  Because, one of the truths that dawned on me after so many years of starting and stopping running programs is that I’ve always tried to run in my own strength.  I’ve never actually let God have every area of my life, choosing to greedily hold on to the areas that I didn’t think He really had time for.  Yeah, I know.  Sometimes my stupidity amazes even me.  But, getting older really does have its benefits, not the least of which is getting wiser.   Thank God.  
So, for the last couple of years, as I’ve re-established a running program, I’ve learned to let God do what God does.  Be my Strength.  Be my Discipline.  Because I really can’t do it by myself.  I’ve tried.  More than once.  And there are still times when that  control freak inside me rears her ugly head and tries to make me think I can do it on my own.  Those are the times I lose motivation, struggle with every run, find excuses not to run, and focus on every ache and pain.  
This year, this race, this training program, this life.  It’s all about what I can do through Christ, who strengthens me.  I’m excited because I’ve finally realized that I can’t, but God can.  Amen and amen!  

My Story

If you’re going to invest any time in reading this, you may want to know a little of my story.  It’s your story.  It’s your neighbor’s story. It’s my mother’s story.  I’m just working to change the ending of mine a little.  
I was not an athletic kid.  I was a book worm, loved (and still love) to read, and would rather curl up with a good book than do anything that would require sweat.  I went through a “chubby” phase in junior high, but quickly outgrew that in high school and was thin enough.  Actually, a lot thinner than I thought I was at the time.  Anyway, this isn’t a blog about teen-age angst.  It’s a journal of my journey as a middle-aged (gasp) woman, on her way to 50, in search of fitness.  
My 20’s passed with only sporadic efforts at fitness.  Aerobics were the calling card of the day & I’m not the most coordinated dancer around.  But, I enjoyed the camaraderie of other young women, then other young mothers as we shared our lives and got to know each other.  
When I entered my 30’s, I had yo-yo’d as much as the next person, weight up one year, down the next.  I still was focused on a number on the scale, a size in my clothes.  I wasn’t worried about my health.  After a very stressful personal time in my life, I began to run/walk to relieve stress.  It worked, and, bingo, it also helped with my weight issues.  The problem was, that like everything I start, I thought I had to go all out.  I was going to be fast, thin, win races.  So, I did what I see so many young women do, I over trained.  I ran too much, too hard, tried to be faster than my body really wanted me to be, and I ended up plagued with injuries and losing the desire to run because it hurt and wasn’t fun.  So, I ran less and less.  I ran sporadically through my late 30’s and early 40’s, never really developing a set routine.
And, of course, life goes on.  I think late 30’s, early 40’s are particularly stressful times in most women’s lives.  We’re raising families, working, our parents are getting older and frailer, and we generally think we have to be Super Mom and keep everybody healthy and happy.  I know I suffered with Wonder Woman syndrome for years, and still have recurring bouts when I least expect it.  My parents grew more and more frail and unhealthy, eventually requiring my sisters and I to take on a lot of their care.  We shared the physical duties: doctor’s visits, cooking, giving them their meds, and had someone come in daily to help us with the cleaning and day to day tending.  I took on the financial duties. This was such a stressful time in my life, running would have been balm to a weary soul, but I struggled with time management and motivation, as so many women do.  Consequently, over the course of about five years, I put on roughly thirty pounds.  Right after we put our parent’s in a nursing home,  my mom passed away.  As difficult as this was, it became a time of healing, of looking to the future and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, spiritually, professionally, physically.  This blog will highlight the spiritual and physical journey.  I know it’s a blog about running, but my spiritual journey is the biggest part of the whole life journey, so I won’t be leaving it out.  
There are a lot of books, blogs, and magazines that highlight people’s journeys to fitness and/or weight loss.  Mine may bore you to tears.  Please, feel free to look away if it does. This journal is intended for women who have reached a certain age and think that it’s too late to try to get healthy, start a running (or walking) program, or to lose that weight that’s hung around for way too many years.   It’s not a how to journal, there are plenty of those out there, waiting for you at the click of a mouse.  Anyone is welcome to read it, but the message is from one woman’s heart to another’s.  And, to be very honest, it’s mostly for me.  To keep me focused and provide an outlet for all those thoughts that clutter my brain during my runs.  And, to help me figure out exactly how faith and fitness will work together throughout the remainder of my days to keep me sane.  
I’ll share some personal things, but none which will make you (or me) uncomfortable.  For instance, I freely share the amount of weight I need to lose, but really, do you need to know what I actually weigh?  I don’t think so.  As I lose, I’ll let you know how much.   I will share my goals with you, some very specific, others more general.  
I hope in doing this that I will inspire you to get up and move.  Because, truly, if I can do it, anyone can.