Tools of the running trade

I’ve been running for less than a year (it’ll be a year in March), so I still consider myself VERY new to the sport. I mean, I never ever thought I would consider myself a runner. If you had asked me at any other point in my life, I would have just laughed at you. Why are you running? Is something chasing you?

Well, once I did Couch to 5k and got hooked on it, I look back and wish I had started sooner. Running isn’t always fun, but I always feel great when I’ve finished a run, even if it wasn’t my best one yet. And from a fitness perspective, I feel like running still gives me the best overall workout. Even better, I get some ‘me’ time. If I’m running by myself, I’m listening to music. If I’m with a friend, it gives us time to catch up on life, share anecdotes from the week, ask for parenting advice, etc. It’s such a great stress reliever.

So, since a lot of my friends know that I am now really into running, I get asked a lot about starting it up and what you need. Aside from shoes (and some would argue there), I guess you really don’t need much. However, here are some of my favorite running accessories.

  • Running shoes: I love my Saucony’s but it took me a few different shoes and various discomforts before I found the right shoes for my feet. Make sure you get properly fitted at a good running store.
  • Sports Bra: Ladies, a good sports bra is a must, especially for us big-chested ladies. I love anything by Moving Comfort, but especially the Fiona bra.
  • The right bottoms: Short shorts and no thigh gap? Well get ready for chafing! Capris are an easy fix (unless it’s the dead of summer in North Carolina, but even then I’ll get longer shorts). Old Navy’s compression capris are awesome and affordable.
  • Headphones: Listen to music on your run? The wires that come with my phone’s free headset always become a tangled mess or I end up worrying that they’ll catch on something. The BackBeat Fit headphones from Plantronics fit great, to the point where I forget they’re there! They also come with a phone carrying case so you can carry your phone in the included armband if you need to.
  • Run tracking: I used to track my runs with Runkeeper, but it would drain my phone battery (especially on my really long runs) and the GPS wasn’t super reliable. I switched over to the Garmin Forerunner 235 and I love it. It has a built in heart rate monitor so I can track ALL of my workouts, not just my runs. And it syncs to my phone and various apps, including My Fitness Pal. It’s made finding out how many additional calories I’ve earned from working out so darn easy.
  • Hydration: I love water. Like 20 glasses + a day love. And when I run, I get dehydrated pretty fast. Anything over 5 miles, I wear my hydration pack (if it’s a really hot day, I’ll wear it for even shorter distances). My Nathan Moxy pack has a 2 liter bladder and tons of pockets for gu’s, my phone, Honey Stinger waffles, headbands and gloves I might shed on a cold day, etc. I’m so used to running with it that I barely notice it’s there and I love not having to stop at the hydration stations on race days.

Again, I’m not saying you need all of these things to run. These are just some of my favorites that I used for almost every long run and a lot of my workouts. What are some tools in your running toolkit?

Setting yourself up for success

Clearly one of the reasons that I had to begin this journey to healthy living is because I love food, and not always the healthiest kinds. So when I fully invested myself into this change, it called for the traditional pantry overhaul.

I think where a lot of people eventually fail with this (speaking from experience of having done this many, many times), is that you stock up on things that you don’t necessarily want to eat because they’re healthy, but when the unhealthy cravings come on, you eventually just start filling the pantry/fridge/freezer with all of the things that you ate previously. And most importantly, you then eat those things in mass quantities… the bag of chips that has 12 servings… well if I sit at that bag and eat straight from it, I could easily consume 4 or 5 servings without even realizing it. Or, let’s be honest, realizing it and not really caring.

So, what I’ve found is that by pre-portioning snacks that are easy to graze on, or getting individual serving sizes and a variety of options – something for a sweet tooth craving, or something salty for my afternoon snack, etc – I am able to give myself an opportunity to think twice before I grab the giant bag of chips or cookies. Instead, I can grab a pre-portioned snack bag, or granola bar. I have a row of various bins in my pantry and two alone are for our snacks (the kids have their own). But when I’m heading out or just needing a snack, I can open the pantry door, grab, and go.

Some of my favorite snacks are:

  • Quaker Oats Granola Bars. They’re SO easy to just grab on the way out the door, especially if you’re running errands and have a fear of suddenly getting hangry in between meals.
  • KIND bars. I love their almond and coconut bar. It’s my sweet fix but is still a nice, healthy alternative to a straight-up chocolate bar. But their other flavors like caramel almond sea salt or peanut butter and dark chocolate are others that I regularly keep in rotation.
  • Luna bars. I like the lemon bar when I have a long run in the morning. It’s not too sweet but will keep me satisfied for a couple of hours. Their nuts over chocolate is a nice afternoon snack option.

Some of my favorite sweets are:

  • Girl Scout cookies! As you can see, I have boxes upon boxes… I think I purchased about 30 this year? (Ok, I’m embarrassed by my true number and probably rounded down a little… maybe). So a friend recommended portioning them out into snack bags. I bought a giant box of snack bags from Costco and put 2-3 cookies per bag. Just over 100 calories and when doing two assorted flavors, it can really be a nice sweet tooth fix. The shortbread cookies are 4 to a serving so I usually put at least two in with another cookie, just because they’re already low in calories so I get a little bit more out of those bags.
  • Chuao 50 calorie chocopods. I’m from California and these were one of the sweets I was sad to move across the country from. But thankfully, they ship! You can get their chocopods in bulk cases and I was gifted the orange and honeycomb packs for Christmas. I put them in a little tupperware and when I need my chocolate fix I can grab one or two.
  • Trader Joe’s chocolate batons. TJs has both a 150 cal chocolate baton and a 100 calorie milk or dark chocolate bar set. The baton is a hefty serving and comes in a few different flavors (I think it’s plain dark, raspberry, and espresso). All are delicious and are treats when I really need that extra sweet or I have a lot of calories to spare and want to treat myself. The 100 calorie bars are another great grab and go item when you need your chocolate fix.

Those are just a few things in my pantry arsenal. I’ve been using this system for months now and it really helps me to feel like I still get the treats that I want, without the deprivation. I also like to take bags of chips and sort them into snack bags so that I not only have a quick side item to go if I’m packing a bag for work, or so that I’m not tempted to grab a bag and sit on the couch munching until regret settles in.

What tricks do you have? What are some of your favorite snacks?

The mental game and support

So how did I really get started?

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First things first, I had to commit to this journey mentally. If I didn’t want to lose the weight and get off my butt, I knew it wouldn’t happen. I could make TONS of excuses. I’m tired. It’s too cold out. But this food is delicious. Maybe in 5 more minutes I’ll go… etc, etc.

After seeing the number on the scale (or just being scared to step on the scale because of said number), realizing that I was going to have to start shopping in specialty stores or primarily online to buy the clothes that I wanted, only to hate the way they would look on me, and seeing pictures that made me realize the hard truth, I knew I needed to do something. And again, it ultimately came down to wanting to be healthy so I could be there for my kids in the long haul. I can’t prevent everything life dishes out, but I can take responsibility for my weight and overall fitness level.

I had contemplated doing Weight Watchers again, but the thought of committing to a program made me gun-shy. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, I just didn’t want to be over-confident as I had been in the past to where I fell off the wagon after a few weeks. It was also why I didn’t join the weekly weigh-in challenges from my weight loss Facebook page until May. Instead, I wanted to work on setting small goals and targets that I could check off along the way. The feeling of ‘I did it’ would push me to the next one. So that’s what I did. I signed up for Run Like a Mother and then Ramblin’ Rose two weeks later. I started my Couch to 5k program and signed up for the training class. I did it with other people because if I missed one, it would be ‘where’s Christine?’ instead of just me sitting on my couch being the only one to know that I skipped out on a workout.

So signing up for the races and programs was what started it, but the only way I was able to do it was from having a strong support system at home.  My husband and I had struggled with weight gain and loss together over the years, but he knew this time I was serious. When I first started, there were no weekend long runs, but there were times where he had to watch the kids while I went to workout. Or if Little Fig fell asleep right before I headed out to training, he’d watch him instead.  As I got into working out more and doing long runs on weekends, he’d entertain the kids while I was out, or he’d do the bedtimes if I had a gym class that coincided.

At the same time, he started working out with me. He still isn’t a fan of running, but he’s done a few races with me, and likes to join me for the occasional lunch-time or evening run. We’ve recently started to do personal training together a couple of times a month.

We also changed the way we ate and the food we kept in the house. There are still times when my favorite chocolates are ordered as a treat, but in general, we now eat healthy as a family. We meal plan together every week – plotting out what our schedule will be like, what we want to eat throughout the week, figuring out groceries, etc. We cut way back on fast food… like we only go when we’re traveling or in a meal rut and need something quick. But that has saved us money that we’ve been able to just use towards more produce, our gym membership, etc. We also try to save eating out for special occasions. This helps us to save money, but gives us little treats so we can still indulge or have a nice night together or as a family.

There were definitely some challenges in the beginning. We both had to have talks about keeping certain temptations around, not being a food pusher, etc. But once we got into a routine and knew what our trigger points were and what would cause us to waiver in our commitment to this healthy lifestyle, things got easier. Don’t get me wrong, there are still meals, days, weeks, where it can be hard… but having someone there to be part of your ‘team’ and to help encourage you along, makes all the difference. If he was insisting on having completely different meals for the family, or stocking the house with junk, I imagine there would be a lot of resentment happening. But we try to be considerate of what works for each other and what we have planned for the week, our weight loss and workout goals, etc.

So, those two things boil down to being the most important aspect of this journey for me. If I didn’t have my own motivation to do it, I’d be out of luck. But having my husband there to also support me and go along with this lifestyle change has been key to making it work.

Why not train for two things at the same time?

Shortly after signing up for Run Like a Mother, I decided to also sign up for the Ramblin Rose all-womens sprint triathlon that my local YMCA was hosting. They were offering a training class that promised to get me ready for the race day (it was just two weeks after my 5k). I figured that I was already a proficient lap swimmer (I swam laps during some of my pregnancy with Little Fig as well as back in grade school), and I was already going through a 5k program so running 2 miles should be a breeze right? Oh and the bike part? Well riding my bike through my neighborhood has always been fun so easy peasy, right?!  I decided to just train for both races concurrently.

I had been really skeptical about signing up for a triathlon, especially one that was so soon. This was just two months away. I had originally looked at the October version of the race a few cities over but my friend convinced me to just do May. She said that it was a race for ALL abilities, and that the training groups that the Y put together were so supportive and would get me more than ready for the race day.

The first day that we met for our training, I dropped Little Fig off at the gym daycare. I was an emotional mess. He was just six weeks old and though he’d eventually go to daycare when I went back to work, I was so anxious about starting him so young. The women in the daycare ensured me that he would be fine, and answered my dozen questions about how he would be cared for while I was gone. I headed off to training intro meeting.

I arrived in what looked like a support group. There was a circle of chairs with a couple of ‘leaders’ and an eclectic group of ladies that would be doing the race and training with me.  I would be spending two days a week with them, two hours each time. The group consisted of four different trainers who would accompany us on our bike rides, run us through swim drills, and coach us during our runs. After listening to everyone introduce themselves, I was happy to hear that I wasn’t the only one doing this for the first time. It also made me feel better in knowing that there were ladies of all ages and fitness levels. It gave me hope that I could actually do this.  I might have been overly confident.

The first time in the pool, I was fine. Definitely out of shape – again, this was when I was just starting to move around after delivering Little Fig, and I had just started Couch to 5k – but I knew how to swim and could go at a reasonable pace. I wasn’t in the ‘fastest’ lane, but I was in the middle of the pack, which was fine with me.

Running…well, I was doing Couch to 5k so I considered my runs with the group practice and a chance to do my intervals. On one of the runs, another woman joined me and told me to turn off my program and just run until I was tired. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I did it to humor her since she was keeping me company (and distracted). While I wasn’t able to go for long periods of time without stopping to walk, I was able to run longer than I had previously during my interval program, and it was nice to change things up. After that, I just continued to progress through the running program to where I knew I could run the two miles at the end of the race.

And then the bike. The fun part, right?? I have a hybrid bike. It looks like a beach cruiser. It has a bell and (detachable) basket. Not necessarily race material. But it has gears, and I was told that was all I needed. I’d never really used them, but still.

Well, within just a few minutes of being on my bike, I realized, I had no idea what I was doing. I had thankfully decided to stay with the ‘beginner’ group where we were going to learn the basics of our bikes. The gear on the left side of my handles? Oh, I didn’t know that was actually moveable. I was pretty convinced it was decorative.  In playing around with all of these new settings, I was happy to learn that my bike could actually change gears, do hills, etc… but unfortunately because it was a hybrid and not necessarily a race bike, it didn’t do them well.  Climbing steep hills was going to be a challenge.

The next time we had a bike day, I was off to join the rest of the group to do our course. The plan was to do as much of the actual race course as possible (aside from a few bits that we wouldn’t see until race day, just because they were busy roads so we couldn’t practice on them). I took off on my bike, following the pack. I felt like a kid again as we cruised down the road into the neighborhood that would make up a majority of our course. As soon as we turned that corner and I actually had to keep a constant peddling pace… things changed.

It was rough! I was trying to keep up with everyone but I could barely do it. Then we go to the infamous hill… the steepest one of the race that everyone had been talking about. I slowly made my way up it, falling behind everyone else. About half way to the top, I finally had to get off my bike and walk. I looked up and saw most had made it, with just a couple that were almost there. I was in tears. When I got to the top, I was out of breath, exhausted, and embarrassed. I was convinced that I held everyone up (they insisted that I hadn’t) and I was suddenly terrified for race day. How on Earth was I going to do this? Everyone tried to reassure me, but I doubted myself the whole ride back.

From that point on, I dreaded our bike days. But each time we had them, I made a point to get a little bit farther up the hill before having to hop off my bike. I was determined to make it up the hill on race day.

Our training continued for six weeks. We switched between two disciplines each time, and I continued to hate the bike. Little Fig became more and more comfortable at the daycare. I’m pretty sure he adapted to it a lot faster than I did. The ladies at the childcare kept commenting on how hard I had been working for the race prep, and I filled them in on each day’s torture session. But I was loving it.

I was getting to know the other ladies and the trainers in my group. We started planning other cross-training workouts and created a mailer list to share our workout schedules. I was also still doing couch to 5k a few times a week, and had been trying to adjust to all of the new activities and aches and pains that came with them. I had a brief stint with runner’s knee, but a knee brace and a couple of rest days helped.

Finally, race day arrived. I felt like I had packed for a trip with all of my little knick knacks for my transition station. I laid everything out perfectly and rushed off to pump before the race start. Thankfully, being a race of all women, everyone was generally supportive and understanding. While pumping, another mom camped out in my ‘quiet’ corner of the main lobby (the only place that had both an outlet and a corner that I could get a tiny bit of privacy in, even though people were streaming past) and tried to nurse her child. We commiserated together, but then it was off to begin.

I ranked myself pretty high in swimming, as you can always let people pass you if you had to, but having to pass someone could be a hassle. After waiting in the line to get in the pool, it was finally my turn. The adrenaline took over and I was off! The swimming portion actually went by so fast, that I don’t remember much of it! I only had to let two people pass me, and it was at the very end when I was stuck behind the person in front of me who was going at a pace that was just slow enough that I could tap her toes, but fast enough that I couldn’t get around her in time for the finish ladder. I let them go in front but then I was out of the pool and running to the bike. My transition was fast, and soon I was peddling away.

I was alone for most of the bike portion of the race, just passing other cyclists or being by them briefly as we went up steep hills. But the one hill… I beat that one. I pushed my way to the top and was only slightly out of breath. But I did it! I made my goal of not having to hop off my bike once.

By the time I pedaled into the transition station for the final leg of the race, I was exhausted. It was hard to imagine running just the short two miles at this point, but I could see the finish line. I knew my family was cheering me on.

I completed the first mile loop with a sudden burst of speed when I saw my family waiting by the finish. Just one more to go and I would be DONE and I could scoop up my boys. I had just completed my 5k two weeks prior. I could do this! I admit, I had to walk on one of the final inclines. I was just so exhausted. But the thought of that finish line pushed me to where I could run again, and I raced through the finish in tears.  Big Fig was so excited to see mommy running and gave me a huge hug. I somehow mustered up the strength to carry him, but I was so exhausted by that point. But it was so nice to be able to say ‘I did it’ and be greeted with huge hugs from my family.

I’m pretty sure after the race, my first words were ‘never again!’ But that’s never the case. I’m already signed up for this year.

May 2015 After pic
Ramblin Rose 2015 complete!

Where my journey began…

As I get closer to my goal weight and overall fitness targets, I’ve had more and more people ask me about how I got here. How did I do it? What finally motivated me to stick with it?

Brace yourselves. This is long. But I promise to get there. It may just be a few posts.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was a skinny kid. To the point where people would ask if I ate enough or thought I must constantly be hungry. I ate a ton and a lot of it was junk, but I was young and didn’t have to think about it. But by college it was a different story.  Suddenly, my poor food choices caught up with me. I went from a size zero to the double digits by the time I graduated. I tried watching what I ate but with no luck, sometimes the call of the warm cookies in the evening was too strong. I had just developed bad habits and didn’t know how to limit ‘indulgences’ like huge pasta dinners, desserts with every meals, etc. It wasn’t until my first job after college that I finally had a breakthrough.

A few ladies in the office put in a bet that we would all join Weight Watchers together and see who could get to our goal weight first. We set little challenges along the way and regularly checked in. At the same time, I signed up for the Bar Method, a ballet/pilates type workout that was just breaking ground in the California Bay Area (this was about 15 years ago). Apparently I’m very competitive and this was the drive I needed.  I was successful with Weight Watchers and was hooked on the Bar Method.  I got to about 5lbs from goal weight and was back to a freshman year college size.  What derailed me?

I was in a toxic work environment and left my job for a different opportunity. This took me away from my workout studio, my WW meeting location, and threw a long commute into the mix. I was sitting on a BART train for almost an hour a day, only after driving 20 minutes to the train and then walking to my SF office. I was exhausted and what time I didn’t spend working and commuting was spent with my husband or sleeping. The weight stayed off for a while, but slooooowly crept back on. Again, cookies and pasta.

All of my hard work was gone and I couldn’t get back on track. I eventually changed jobs to a company closer to home with no commute, but even with Weight Watchers meetings on-site, I couldn’t find the motivation. I wasn’t working out, and I couldn’t stay focused on the plan.

For years I kind of drifted. I took up competitive dancing but probably never realized my full potential because I couldn’t turn my eating habits around. I considered a dance class a couple of times a week ‘good enough’ for a workout routine. I tried WW a few more times but after the first few weeks, I’d get over-confident with the initial big numbers, have a bad day, then drop the program completely (after paying for it for a month or two longer than necessary, of course). My husband had luck with it though and made it to Lifetime membership.

July 2012 Before Photo
Pre-babies. Before Big Fig.

Before I had my first baby boy (Big Fig), I had reached an all-time high in my weight. I was over 200lbs and wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I hated pictures of myself and was my own worst-critic. I had even been doing Dailey Method (another barre workout) regularly, and dance class once or twice a week, but still couldn’t make healthy eating decisions.  But I had some health issues (not weight related) that had prevented us from trying for Big Fig previously, so I didn’t want to make too many changes as I was going to gain weight when I was pregnant anyways, right?

After having Big Fig, I had naturally lost some weight just from having a baby, and then from nursing. I took that weight loss with over-confidence and told myself ‘well I can just eat whatever I want!’ This was true to a point, but eventually, I stopped nursing and the food and weight caught up to me.

Jan 2015 Before Pic
At my sprinkle for Little Fig. Just a couple of weeks before delivery.

In January 2015, I was getting ready to have my second baby. A baby boy that I’ll now call ‘Little Fig’ for the purpose of this blog. Going into this pregnancy, I wasn’t at a healthy place. After I stopped nursing, the weight crept back on, and going into my second pregnancy, I was now heavier than I had been before I had my first, and had gained almost half of the pregnancy weight back. I had taken the approach of ‘well I’m just going to be pregnant and gain weight so might as well wait until I’m done before I do anything about it.’

My doctors warned me that I had to be cautious with this pregnancy and my weight gain as I was already obese. So, I was, but being pregnant, weight still came on as the months progressed. I wasn’t going to starve myself, but I just never necessarily made healthy choices. Other pregnancy side effects actually made it harder to enjoy food as much as I used to so thankfully I didn’t gain as much as I could have, but I still felt miserable. Throughout I would tell myself: ‘after this, I’m going to get my butt in gear.’ Easier said than done, and I had a history of falling off diet plans.

Little Fig made his debut at the end of January. I was going to be on maternity leave for several months, but having had a C-Section, I was on strict orders not to do anything for the first six weeks. I spent that time trying to get into some sort of routine, missing sleep, and figuring out how I was going to entertain myself and a newborn for the next few months. I started to give a little more thought to getting in shape and losing the baby weight.

After having Little Fig, I obviously lost some weight from having a baby. But I was over 245 lbs when I had him. Far over my previous maximum and in fact, at some point I stopped weighing myself and looking at the scale when I went to the doctor’s office. I was embarrassed and ashamed of the way I looked.  My clothes were the largest size without having to go to specialty stores and the thought of doing that stressed me out. I loved my family photos from our newborn photo shoot, but looking at them, I knew it was time to do something.

I started participating in an online page for local moms who were interested in weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. It was an off-shoot of my breastfeeding support group so I knew several of the moms and their kids very well. It was a comfortable, safe environment, and I was able to watch as they did various ‘challenges’ and motivational posts. I was even inspired to begin participating from time to time.  Well right when my six weeks of rest were up, my doctor gave me the go-ahead to start exercising. Around this time a friend on the board suggested doing Couch to 5k. Three of us committed to doing the program together with an end goal of the Run Like a Mother 5k on Mother’s Day. This gave us approximately 6 weeks to get ready with our end goal being that we all wanted to run the entire thing – no stopping or walking.

A larger group on the page were doing Couch to 5k with later goal dates, but we all started together and were able to encourage each other online as we started. Most of us were so out of shape. I couldn’t get through the first round of intervals (jog 45, walk 1:30) without being totally winded. It was so disheartening and intimidating to think that within just a few weeks I would be able to run 30 minutes straight… and then the fact that on race day it would need to be 45 minutes because I was so slow that I was just doing a 15 minute mile. How was this going to work?!

Well, we trudged along. Some days were better than others and my time never really improved, but I started to hate it a little bit less each time.  At first I began doing the intervals with my husband, though just past week 2 he foolishly fell off a small fence, landed wrong and hurt his knee – no more running for him! So, I did it by myself. I then started reaching out to my neighborhood community for walker buddies, and even posted a sign for walking/running buddies at my local YMCA. Concurrently,  I started to be a little more conscious of what I was eating. It wasn’t long before I noticed the weight was finally starting to come off.

When the race day arrived, I had finished the couch to 5k program with my girlfriends and we were ready to run. The course was hilly and the weather was drizzly, but we plugged away and finished the race without stopping! Our final time was just over 45 minutes but we were so proud of what we had accomplished. The big, shiny medal was also the start of an addiction…

In addition, by the week of the race, I had lost all of my pregnancy weight from Little Fig. I was down almost 40lbs from his delivery! I chose that time to join in with the online page’s weekly weigh ins so that I could actually start to track what I was doing on the scale.  I was jogging a couple times a week, as well as taking advantage of some classes and events at my local YMCA. I was just starting on my path to fitness. But more on that and the next 60lbs in my next post.

After May 2015 Pic
After Run Like A Mother. About 40lbs down post baby.