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Monday, September 2, 2013

Breaking up with the Scale and Loving Yourself Instead

At the Biggest Loser RunWalk expo, during Danni Allen's talk, a woman that looked no older than 23 asked a very relevant question. Having already lost 175 lbs with a few more to go, the woman said that she was having issues with body dysmorphia and still seeing herself as her obese self. She asked how Danni dealt with these feelings.

I'd see this and thought I looked thin
I nodded emphatically as the woman asked the question. Since reaching goal, body dysmorphia is something that I have struggled with as well. The dysmorphia I'm experiencing now is the opposite of what I experienced when I was obese. When I was obese, I would look in the mirror and see photos of myself and not see myself as morbidly obese. I thought I looked fine, even as I would lose my breath tying my shoes.

Now, I look in the mirror at a woman of healthy weight and BMI and still see something with which I'm not happy. It seems absurd, since I know I should be very proud of my accomplishments, and I am, but I still am having trouble letting go.

The demon I'm still facing is very real, and is sitting just a few feet away from me in this room as I write -- it's the scale. As useful as it was during my weight loss, the scale is now my worst critic. But I can't break it off with the scale. I'm still so tied to the numbers on the scale, and it's getting to the point where I'm doing myself more harm than good by stepping on the scale every few days.

This is particularly an issue at the moment because I'm still having a very hard time balancing my food with my half marathon training. Now running upwards of 20 miles a week, I know that I have to be increasing my calorie intake because of the work I'm doing. However, this means that I'm suddenly basically eating everything in sight, which, after losing 90 lbs and exerting such self-control for so long, brings on immense feelings of guilt.

What I see now -- and I'm still unhappy
I've gained a few pounds back with my half marathon training since I probably am eating a little too much for my training, and each time I step on the scale, I feel shame. I know that it is all in my head, and it is all totally self-inflicted. I look at the number on the scale, think "oh my god you're such a fat cow right now." Then I look at myself in the mirror, and because I thought it, that is what I see.

I felt it earlier today when I ate way too much of things that I should not have at some friends' party this afternoon. I went into the party thinking I needed to get a handle back on my eating habits during social events, since my choices lately have, well, sucked. Did I eat as much as I would have during my obese days? No. I probably would have helped myself to two more crab rangoons and another one or two pieces of birthday cake. But I was still disappointed in myself for not living up to my own promises. As penance, I went to the gym as soon as I got home and ran until the gym closed.

But running should not be a punishment. It didn't even assuage much of my guilt. Sure I burned off a bit of what I ate, but I still am upset with myself that I ate it and that I lost control. Again. I'm mad that keep calling myself a fat cow to the point where I see it in the mirror. I'm upset that I still allow the scale to control me, causing me to lose control over myself.

More than ever, I realize that it is time to put away the scale -- put it out of sight completely. If the number I see is just going to make me upset all day, I need to break off my relationship with the scale. It's gotten to be a toxic relationship and I need to do what makes me happy. I need to learn to love my body, "warts and all" as they say, and not punish it by not only eating bad food, but then later, out of guilt, depriving it and "disciplining" it with workouts.

I need a full body-love attitude makeover. It'll require me to grasp control of my eating habits and rid my pantry of the foods I know I tend to binge on when I'm thinking "I ran 7 miles today, I can eat whatever I want." It'll require me to store the scale out of sight, and find the fun in running again. It'll require me to stop calling myself a fat cow, even when I feel like it. It is not what is actually reflected in the mirror and the self-negativity helps absolutely no one.

I need to stop comparing myself to the women who have lost a ton of weight and have perfectly flat stomachs and not my deflated skin mess of a stomach. It's not fair to myself and it's not productive. I have to stop tying my recent unlucky dating adventures to my looks ("did I wear something that made me look fat on our first date?")

I need to start loving myself again.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Race Review: Buffalo Grove Stampede 10K (or, why races should start at 7am)

I wanted a good filler 10K in the midst of my half marathon training, so I got it in the form of the Buffalo Grove Stampede, part of that town's BG Days, a village festival. Buffalo Grove is very close to where I grew up and not too far from where I live now, and the Stampede is also a CARA Circuit Race, so I signed up so I could get some points with my running club.

I arrived in Buffalo Grove and managed to find a parking spot in one of their designated parking locations. Thankfully, I did not have to park at the movie theater and take the shuttle bus to the starting line. I couldn't imagine the smell on the ride back on one of those school buses!

The registration area was pretty easy to figure out -- I picked up my packet without issue, but then over the loudspeaker came the announcement that they placed the B-Tags on the bibs in the incorrect orientation and we would have to turn the bibs sideways. Not a big deal, but I had just pinned on my bib when I had to take it off and re-pin it!

I found the Oak Park Runners Club participants and joined up with them pre-race to chat. Side note: I am very happy that I have now met several members. It's nice to have some folks to chat with before and after the races!

Now, as to the race itself. I'll start with the positives. The course was lovely. I was a little worried when I read the disclaimer that 60% of the 10K course was a crushed gravel trail, since I had never run trail before, but it ended up being totally fine, and actually better on my joints. Once we got back to asphalt after going through the trail, my knees were like "Nooooo!"

The trail bit was very pretty -- through a forest preserve and down along the banks of a creek (it was so hot I considered jumping in!)

And that brings me to the negatives. This obviously was no fault of the organizers, but it was blazingly hot. By starting time, it was over 80 degrees with over 60% humidity. The sun was just beating down in a cloudless sky and the course was literally shadeless. By the time I finished, it was 90 degrees outside.

One thing that could have been done about this is the race start time. When I checked the weather forecast for Sunday, I was expecting a race start time temperature of about 70 degrees. Wrong-o. First of all, the 5K started at 8:00am. The 10K, however, started at 8:22am. In my opinion, that is just an incredibly late start, particularly for a 10K. Starting a 10K at nearly 8:30am on a weekend that still is usually warm in Chicago seems nuts to me. This may just be a personal opinion, but races should always start at 7:00am or earlier, no matter the season.

I was displaying symptoms of heat exhaustion by Mile 4. My goose bumps were out of control, and my body depleted itself of fluid so rapidly that I literally had stopped sweating. I had hydrated myself a ton the day prior and the morning of the race, but I had no more fluid to even sweat out. As soon as I crossed in a fairly the finish time, in a time that was quite disappointing to me if I'm being honest, I had to run for the shade and sit down. As soon as I did, I thought I would faint. I hope that the 76-year-old man that crossed the finish with me then nearly collapsed is OK.

Obviously I'm fine now, but it was a very tough race for me. I would love to do it again next year, but maybe I'll do the 5K instead. Hopefully things will cool off before my long-awaited and long-anticipated Run For Your Lives race in three weeks! I'd be so mad if I overheated and had a miserable time at that event since I have been looking forward to it for so long.

But on to the next, each race is a learning experience, and I certainly learned from this one!

Buffalo Gove Stampede 10K
September 1, 2013
Buffalo Grove, IL

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Changing Perspectives

I got the following message from an old friend the other day:
"So I am following your lead to fitness! Too bad I feel like I might die in the process. Keep up your awesome work!"
First of all, this is about the 10th friend of mine to say to me that I have inspired them to do something about their lives. Which is still unbelievable every time it happens to me.

But the point of this post really is thinking about the changes I've made as I have still continued through this weight loss and maintenance journey. I read the above message on my phone as I was in Target, incidentally, standing in front of the boxes of protein bars, at which I'd stopped to investigate when I happened to check my phone.

After reading the message, I turned back to the protein bars to see that Luna bar boxes were on sale for $5. I instantly thought, "OOOH! Luna bars on sale!"

Standing the middle of Target, still sweating from my half marathon training run (my gym is right next door to Target and I needed a few groceries on my way home), I sort of stopped myself in thought for a moment. I'm actually excited about Luna bars being on sale right now. Luna bars.

I thought about the things I used to get excited about being on sale.

Back when I was 230 lbs, it was:

"OOOH! Pringles are on sale!" I'd then eat an entire canister in about an hour.

"OOOH! DiGiorno frozen pizzas are only $3!" I'd then eat an entire pizza in one night for "dinner."

"OOOH! Kraft Mac and Cheese boxes are 3 for a dollar!" I'd then eat at least one entire prepared box in one sitting.

"OOOH! Lean Pockets are on sale!" Then convincing myself, that "hey, they're LEAN Pockets" I'd eat at least two in a serving and tell myself it was OK because they're LEAN, right?!

My, my, how times have changed. I used to get excited about Pringles being on sale. Now I'm psyched when protein bars are on sale, having them in mind to eat following my 10 mile training runs.

Once again, perspective hit me. I ran 7 miles last Saturday for my long run like it was no big deal. I did it in a little over an hour and felt pretty awesome during and after.

I remember how hard it was to run for three straight minutes during my Couch to 5K training. It felt like imminent death. Now I'm running 7, 8, 9 miles like it's no big thing.

Which brings me back to the original comment from my friend. "I feel like I might die in the process." A year ago, I thought running three consecutive minutes at 5 mph was agony. Now I'm running 7 miles at around 6.4 mph -- and that was considered an easy run.

Consider the changes in one year. You can get excited over a sale on protein bars. You can run 7 miles in shortly over an hour as part of an easy run. You can if you work your ass off. It's not easy. It's not a temporary change. It is part of lifelong process of lifestyle reform.

But it is possible. It's not just my ego talking: I really am proof.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Product Review: SportLegs

If you're a runner, you know how it goes. You get injured, you finally get back to regular running, and your legs feel like straight-up lead. This certainly happened to me the past few weeks.

After peroneal tendonitis and then a bout of tarsal tunnel syndrome (in the same leg), I was pretty much out of commission for about the last two weeks. My first "real" run back was just this Wednesday, and though it was only about a 3.5 mile run, my legs felt like solid heavy metal. Everything else was fine (see the "Breaking the Slump" post for further details) but my muscle fatigue was pretty out of control.

In fact, I've found that to be a problem in general whenever I run. Usually, when I'm on long runs, or really any run in general, it's not so much physical exertion or breathing or exhaustion that trip me up. It's muscle fatigue. And that muscle fatigue is usually in my legs. It's typically what makes me want to stop if I'm on the treadmill or take a walk break if I'm running outdoors. It's almost always leg muscle fatigue.

When I saw an ad in Runner's World for this SportLegs supplement, I was intrigued. It seems a lot of cyclists use it to prevent muscle burn (and fatigue) on rides. But obviously they advertise it to runners as well. I went to their website to check it out.

SportLegs is a supplement (all-natural, just "lactate compounds of calcium and magnesium plus Vitamin D") that stalls the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which is of course how it prevents the muscle burn and fatigue. According to SportLegs' website, the supplement "primes muscles with lactate, your muscles' natural fuel, so they make less lactic acid. SportLegs uses lactate, your body's primary high-exertion muscle fuel, to signal muscles not to overproduce lactate before you even begin exercise."

It also helps with heaviness and next-day soreness, stating,
"Taken an hour before exercise, SportLegs raises blood lactate, so you experience exercise with less limb 'pump' and heaviness, and improved lactate transfer facilitates a noticeably higher lactate threshold. Reduced lactate accumulation means less retention of free radicals and other metabolic wastes in muscle tissues, for faster recovery and less next-day soreness." 
It also contains a good chunk of calcium (three capsules contain 14% of the recommended daily amount of calcium).

I was interested in their claims and their expert testimonials and spokespeople, so I ordered the trial package, which includes 30 capsules for $8.99.

I finally got around to testing it out after recovering from my injury when I knew I had a long run (7 miles, Week 3 Day 6 of my half marathon training) planned, counting in my recent leg heaviness on runs. The instructions recommend that you take one capsule per 50 pounds of body weight one hour prior to physical activity, and round up on the weight part. With my 140 pounds, I went with three capsules to account for the rounding up.

I went for my run, and amazingly, had little to no muscle fatigue. I ran 7 miles and it felt like child's play. I only started feeling some leg muscle fatigue around 6.5 or so miles, but no burn or a ton of muscle fatigue prior to that. Even now, I have never even had a training run as long as 7 miles, and I was pretty surprised to have no muscle burn and even now, several hours later, I have pretty much no fatigue (or soreness, but that's probably more stretching).

I don't necessarily want to attribute my great run today to SportLegs, since I have only tried it once. But I did notice that considering the long distance, my muscles really did not burn at all during the run. This is a supplement that I will continue to experiment with, and I hope to continue to get the results. It is really too untested (for me) at this point to say "absolutely yes, this is the sole reason I had such a great run today!" but I hope it was instrumental in my good training run today. If so, I'll continue to use SportLegs!

Stay tuned; I'll update as I keep using it on if I think that SportLegs is the real deal. For now, yes, it is, but it's only been one long run. But I do find it significant that my muscles felt great the whole time, despite going one of the longer distances that I have ever amounted. There may be something to this. I'll keep experimenting!

Update (8/18): It's the day after my 7 mile run and I have pretty much zero soreness. This is a first for me, since usually after running anything over 10K I at least have some soreness the next day. Nope! I will continue to update as I continue using SportLegs.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Breaking the Slump and Becoming a Morning Runner

Lately, I have been feeling very frustrated and have felt lapses in self-control and motivation. I stepped on the scale yesterday to see a frightening number: 147 (that's right, accountability comes back to haunt me).

I spent most of the day Tuesday feeling sorry for myself. But you know what, there are a lot of people out there in the world who have worse problems than a lack of motivation when it comes to fitness. And unlike people who have those larger, pervasive problems to worry about, I can do something about it.

So sack up, girlfriend, I said to myself. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Do you know how lucky you are to be able to do something about your problems? So do something.

Yesterday I attempted to take a morning run (since my class days are Tuesdays) but a late night prior (writing papers) means that I was all about continuing to sleep past the 5am running wakeup.

This morning, I tried again. I groaned as my alarm went off at 5am, but I shouted to myself, channeling my inner Jillian Michaels, "Get the hell up, Erika, you're f***ing running today. And I do not feel bad about making you do it."

An invisible hand (Jillian? Is that you?) yanked me out of bed to turn off my alarm and pull on a bunch of spandex (and long sleeves, yikes this morning was chilly!) It was still dark outside, so I put on my light-up slap bracelet (which I haven't had to use since we sprang forward in Daylight Savings Time), downed a Fiber One protein bar and a few sips of the open Gatorade in my fridge, and set out into the early pre-dawn morning.

This was also a new experiment for me in that I did not bring headphones with me for music or even Zombies, Run! I like to run with fast music, and let's face it, 'Ye at 5am is not exactly great for someone who is not a morning person.

I don't care how much something that doesn't kill you can only make you stronger, Kanye, it is too early for you.

So I was left alone with my thoughts in the pitch black of a Wednesday morning as I'm still battling peroneal and tarsal tunnel pain in the same leg. Yep, this just got interesting. My internal dialogue was firing on all cylinders.

Hey Erika, it's your left leg here, and guess what, I'm really hurting.
Yeah, I know, shut up, running is actually making you hurt less, so joke's on you.

Oh, um... well it's your esophagus now, and you forgot to take your GERD medication before you went out to run, and now I'm just buuuuurning.
Yep, got it, won't make that mistake again, and I'm blasting you back to hell with pantoprazole as soon as I get home.

Fine, I'm your stomach now, and that Gatorade is sloshing around a bit!
Dude, I had like 5 sips of that Gatorade before I went out for the run. There is no way I drank enough to have any kind of sloshing. I do believe it's your imagination, so leave me alone. 

Crap. Well now I'm your lungs, haha! And I'm feeling a little bit constricted right now. How you feel about that?
Psychosomatic, my dear lungs. There's nothing wrong with my breathing right now, so shut it.

Fine, I'm your brain now, and I will not turn off with continuously writing a blog post in your head about this run you're doing right now.
That's just fine, brain, I was planning to write a blog post on this run anyway. You're just running out of ways to psych me out, aren't you?

What? No! Erika! Up here! Look, I'm the Metra train, and I've stopped at the Oak Park station right as you're running underneath it so all the commuters can ogle you, the weirdo running down the street at 5:30am!
Whatever, they're a bunch of people that have to be on a Metra train to go to work as early as 5:30am. They won't find it weird, in fact, there's about a 99.9% chance that I got up later than them. Nice try!

Dangit. Uh... I'm the sun, rising and flooding the sky with a beautiful tapestry of pink and purple and orange as you head into the home stretch.
I know, I noticed! Thanks, you are quite beautiful! This is very nice!

Hey Erika, now I'm your front door. Oh. You're done.
You bet I am! Perfect timing to shower and get to work!

So guess what? I went on a 5am weekday run before work without music and it did not beat me. In fact, it really wasn't that bad, and I think I may do it again. It was such a different experience running around my usually bustling neighborhood and have it be totally empty and quiet and cool and dark.

The beauty of it especially was that I got home in the afternoon and was able to devote time to running the errands I needed to (as well as writing this blog post) instead of feeling the stress of having to plan a run in there too.

And you know what, self-control? I'm bringing you back. I'm bringing strong back. I'm bringing motivation and ferocity back. I'm bringing it all back. You've all got a lot to worry about, little voices that were in my head this morning. Because starting back up right now, you're working for me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Race Review: Biggest Loser RunWalk 15K

It is really difficult to approach the review of the Biggest Loser RunWalk 15K race. The packet pickup/expo occurred on Saturday and the race occurred Sunday, and both days were just really some of the best days of my life.

My SparkPeople vlog I did can probably best describe my expo day, which essentially had me leaving the expo in happy, honored, and speechless tears. It also had me feeling like I could have run a marathon Sunday. It was very smart to do the expo with lectures on Saturday prior to the race -- it was the perfect motivation for the race the next day.

Race morning
I woke up early Sunday morning feeling nervous and tired. Thankfully, I was armed with ENERGYbits and so on the el train on the way down to the Museum Campus, I downed the requisite serving. You can read my bits review for further info on that, but I'll go back to the race itself.

My mother and I walked to Soldier Field from the el station and got there about half an hour before race time. We checked our bags at gear check and hit the portapotties (which had a super long line) before we went to the start line. Got out of the stall and, bummer, no hand washing station. Gross.

But there was no time to wander around looking for hand wipes or sanitizer or anything, as Dolvett was on the stage at the starting line and we had to make a mad dash for the incredibly crowded corral. It was a little bit too crowded, especially considering that it really seemed that the number of entrants was not hugely massive.

The starting line
But I took to heart the advice that Francelina gave me Saturday: "Let everyone go ahead of you. The first few miles should not feel like work." So I let it slide that I was sitting in like the 11:00 corral and just went with it. Luckily, when our wave came up to the start, I realized I was actually in the very front of the roped-off wave, so I was golden.

As we passed the start, just off to the left was a platform on which stood Dolvett, Danni, Dan and Jackie, cheering us on as we started off. My wave was released and I headed off. I followed Francelina's advice to the T and started as slow as I could muster, busting ahead of the handful of folks in front of me in the wave but feeling no further need to get ahead of anyone.

I was feeling phenomenal throughout the entire race, but it particularly opened up after the 5K and 15K courses split, which was only after about 1.5 miles. It was also at the Inspiration Station featuring Pam and Jackson. I reached out to Pam, who knew who I was at that point. She immediately recognized me, grabbed my hand and said "Hey! Run with me for a minute!" and she fell into my stride next to me. "How you doing, doing good?" and I said, "Yeah feeling great!" She said, "Great! Good luck, and see you at the finish line!" She then returned back to the little event tent she shared with Jackson.

After the split, the course opened up. With fewer 15K run participants than, well, anything else, there was just a huge amount of open space for the remainder of the race, which was such a luxury on the lakefront trail.

I literally was smiling throughout the entire race. I don't even know what was going on, but I felt I could have run for a decade. I was just so happy and excited and empowered that I just kept pounding the pavement with pure delight. Particularly around Mile 6, there was a little outcropping in the trail and the entire Chicago skyline was on a big vista right in front of the course. Several racers in front of me stopped to take photos -- I didn't, but that provided a huge boost for me. It was a perfect day weather-wise, completely clear, and the entire city was basically on a platter on this vista.

Rounding the finish
Around Mile 7, farther than I have ever run before in my life, I pounded a Gu. It was my first experience with gels, but I think I timed it properly (not only did I intend to take it at Mile 7 but it was also the exact time I felt a pang of hunger).

I was just happily running and then realized that I was about to round the corner to the finish. From the corner to the finish, it was really only about 0.1 or 0.2 miles, and I turned it on. I have never before found the power to sprint for a finish at any distance, but I saw that the finish was super close and I all-out sprinted. There were all these people lining the finish cheering and screaming and pushing me onward.

Francelina and me after the finish
I then saw my mother, who had been waiting at the finish since she completed the 5K about 40 minutes earlier. She was snapping photos and I quickly hugged her on the run before I crossed the finish line. One of the organizers was at the finish with a microphone to meet me, and she gave me a high-five as I happily passed the finish with music and cheering pounding in the background.

I got my medal, my first 15K medal, and dug into the boxes lining the post-finish line: water, banana, bagel.

My mom and I wandered down to the finishers' area where 5K awards were being handed out. I picked up my bag from gear check and did my post-race interview with Biggest Loser RunWalk after having done the long background interview with them during the expo the day prior.

Mom, Jackson, me and Pam after finish
I finished with a 1:34:25. I'd told Jeff during the expo that I hoped to finish in 1:30. However, I was perfectly happy with the 1:34:25 time. It was my first time running that far and long ever and the fact that I finished feeling so good and not like I was going to die was so important for my first 15K.

Again, more is in that vlog on SparkPeople, but even after the race was a continuation of the phenomenal experience. Afterward, I still ended up being OK. I was sore and had to get on a plane just a few hours later for work, but I wore some compression socks for the remainder of the day, including in the airport and on the plane, and I felt OK.

Jeff, me and Francelina after the finish
If you ever have the opportunity to do a Biggest Loser RunWalk event, I highly recommend it. It was probably top to bottom one of the best experiences of my life. It was not only the race but the expo as well. The entire weekend was so phenomenal that I cannot say enough about the race series.

Keep an eye out for my video interviews on the Biggest Loser RunWalk website! I will definitely alert everyone when I see it, but keep an eye.

Biggest Loser RunWalk 15K
August 4, 2013
Chicago, IL

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Product Review: ENERGYbits (AKA why I am now #poweredbybits)

Over the last few months of being active on my new fitness Twitter account, I'd heard a ton of buzz about ENERGYbits. I was still a relatively novice runner, so took note, but then moved on. As I began training for a half marathon, I started paying more attention to my @fatgirlrunns Twitter account. And I noted that the talk about ENERGYbits was only increasing. I'd just run a 5K and got a coupon in my packet for 20% off an order. I went to the website and took a look.

I must admit I was thrown off by the pricing, which, for a product I'd never tried, was daunting. I asked the kind folks at ENERGYbits if they were willing to send samples to bloggers, and they were all too happy to send me a few servings of ENERGYbits to try for myself.

ENERGYbits' brand manager says of their product:
"ENERGYbits have the highest concentration of protein in the world and deliver a steady stream of energy, all naturally and all without sugar, caffeine, chemicals or stomach distress. Even better, ENERGYbits are the only protein in the world that also contain natural antioxidants and Omega 3 which reduce muscle inflammation, iron which prevents fatigue, chlorophyll which builds the immune system and electrolytes which replenish mineral imbalances, all for just one calorie per tab. No other protein offers all this."
My sample arrived in the mail quite serendipitously the day before my first ever 15K race.

I was nervous for my first 15K. I'd never run that distance before, race or otherwise, and in my past two 10Ks (both just in July) I had encountered major fatigue issues which had resulted in miserable times. But now armed with my ENERGYbits, I knew it was the perfect time to test the product.

The bits come with their own handy tin, which I packed in my race bag prior to race day. The people behind bits suggest to eat 30 tabs about 10-15 minutes before activity, so I downed 30 tabs about two el stops before the race stop -- approximately 30 minutes before start time.

Nearly instantly, I felt like I could conquer the world. I am by absolutely zero means a morning person, and suddenly at 7am on a Sunday morning, I felt I could have just started running for hours.

It was really amazing how instantaneously the energy came. Maybe it was just my mindset, but it seemed the energy was specific toward activity. It wasn't just that I was awake, it was also that I just wanted to start running immediately and run for a long time.

I started my race according to the advice of a Biggest Loser contestant who had given me some phenomenal advice the day before. I told her about my issue with starting far too fast and then flagging later on in the race. She told me to let everyone go ahead of me for the first few miles. Not to worry about jostling for position or getting ahead of people but to let everyone pass me. I maintained an easy pace (around 10:30) throughout the first few miles, and then very slowly ramped it up (to a more 9:30 pace) in the latter half of the race.

Never did I once hit a wall. Zero walls. Not once did I experience fatigue or feel my chest tighten to the point of panic as it had for my last two races. In fact, I literally was smiling the entire race just thinking about how great I was feeling. Even as I passed the Mile 9 marker, I was thinking that I could have kept going even longer. I legitimately felt I could have had the energy, strength, and wherewithal to run a half marathon that day.

But it was a 15K. And as I rounded the last corner for the last 0.1 or 0.2 miles to the finish line, I broke into an all-out sprint. In all the races I've ever done of any distance, I have never found the strength to do the "sprint for the finish line" thing. But yet, powered by ENERGYbits, once I rounded that corner and saw all the people lining the finish (including my mother), I literally went into full sprint. I have never had remotely enough energy for that before! No matter how much I have wanted to full sprint to a finish line before, I have never been able to do so. I did on Sunday. I sprinted. After having already run 9.2 miles.

My time was about on track with what I was hoping for with my first 15K. And it was literally the most comfortable race of my life physiologically. I never felt fatigued or tired, I never felt that I needed or even wanted to stop, and I as previously mentioned, I felt I could have run even longer, despite having already run almost three miles more than I ever have in my life.

I just felt so amazing and energized and motivated after using ENERGYbits that I am 100% a believer now. For me, a frequent racer and someone training for bigger endurance events, ENERGYbits are invaluable fuel for me. I plan for all of my future races to be #poweredbybits, and plan to now be a loyal customer. The incredible energy and stamina I experienced with bits are well worth the price.

Trust me, I'm not the type to endorse a product if I think it's crap. I don't lie and I give proper credit to the things that I believe in. And after trying ENERGYbits, I believe in this product. Immediately after my race, I chalked my performance up to ENERGYbits. It's not just hype -- they really do work for runners. I'm a believer!

Thank you ENERGYbits!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Race Review: BTN Big 10K

The BTN Big 10K holds a very special place in my heart. Not only because as a grad student at Northwestern, I get the opportunity to celebrate the Big 10 conference and my status as a Wildcat, but also because this race symbolizes my runnerversary.

You may have seen me use this word on Twitter in the past few days. What does it mean? It's the anniversary of when I started running. In other words, it is the anniversary of the day that I changed my life forever.

After the 2012 BTN Big 10K (5K)
One year ago, I heard radio ads for the inaugural BTN Big 10K, and having already spent a few months in grad school, I thought it sounded fun. I signed up for the 5K -- the first race for which I had ever voluntarily registered. I was still about 30 lbs overweight, but was determined to do it.

Come race day, I'd never run before, but I vowed to try to jog as much of it as I could. I finished the 5K in 41:09, and was totally exhilarated.

After a few days, once my soreness subsided, I wanted more. I wanted to run. I bought a Couch to 5K program for my phone and the rest, as they say, is history.

This year, I was pleased to find out that the Big Ten Network had indeed decided to make this an annual event, and I signed up for the 10K race only hours after registration opened on the website.

Friday night, now a seasoned runner, I did as any nerdy runner would do. I laid out my clothes for the next morning, down to the socks, and meticulously packed my race bag (selecting a bright yellow bag that I'd gotten from a previous race so as to make gear check easy).

Before the 2013 BTN Big 10K
Saturday morning, I hopped on the first el train downtown (literally, the first train of the day around 5:30am), and joined the pack of people maneuvering to the new start/finish location near the Adler Planetarium. I was seeded in the F corral, but the corraling was a little disorganized, with people jumping flimsy barricades and stone fences when entrances to corrals got packed too tightly with people.

The corrals, in my opinion, were still a little too over-full for the size of the course, and Mile 1 was largely spent bumping into people. The lakefront trail is not a wide avenue, and much of the race I felt boxed in and stuck by the swell of people. I think my pace probably suffered as such.

I ended up being about two and half minutes over my goal finish time, finishing with a 59:19. I wasn't happy about my time, but I did also hit a big wall at Mile 5 with a problem that seems to keep happening.

This particular time, I was breathing fine, my heart rate was fine, but yet, suddenly, it felt like my lungs were in a vise. I could still breathe just fine, but the chest pressure of course made me panic, which made me then feel even more like my chest was being crushed. It was a big vicious cycle. Does anyone else experience anything like this? If so, how do you combat it, distract yourself, or at least calm yourself down so you don't end up making it worse? This has happened my last two 10Ks and it's really caused issues for my times, not to mention my sanity!

My own problems aside, while I was happy that the race had such a great response and I believe the organizers said they tripled their registrations from the previous year, I think that the literal width of the course is just too small for that many people.

Shiny medal!
There was a huge crush of people after crossing the finish line as people filed by to claim their medals (which, however, are really sweet and shiny -- see left) and it was literally like herding cattle.

The organizers do have to consider how a bottleneck venue will perform with as many entrants as there were. It was a bit of a mess as people (very) slowly shuffled to claim snacks, water, Gatorade, and bananas, then proceeding to the medals.

Of course, all in my corral had the same gear check station, sectioned by bib numbers (of which all in the corral were of the same bib range). So as lines were scant at other gear check locations post-race, since of course my entire corral finished at basically the same time, there was a huge line to pick up gear at my section.

I picked up my free school sunglasses (thankfully I didn't go to Illinois -- that sunglasses line was longer than the free beer line, whereas Northwestern's tent crowd was nonexistent). After picking up and guzzling my free beer and my free chicken sausage, I was about done with the crowds and was just so tired. I ended up stopping for breakfast at a nearby breakfast place on Michigan, but then headed home.

Do I regret doing this race with those... disappointments in mind? Absolutely not.

My runnerversary is a reminder of how far I've come and how much my life has changed in the past year. In a way, this race is responsible for my entire transformation. I'm a runner now. I have my good and bad races and my pace isn't perfect, but I am a runner.

BTN Big 10K
July 27, 2013
Chicago, IL

Monday, July 22, 2013

From Obese to Elite

I went to the doctor today for an annual check-up, and I informed him of my weight loss and the fact that I am a runner and training for a half marathon.

He did the usual stuff after we went over my history: checking my ears, throat, lungs, heartbeat. He noted that my BMI was very good and well within the healthy range. Then he did something that surprised me. Now knowing that I was a pretty intensive runner, he had me lie down on the exam table and then took my heart rate to measure my resting heart rate.

When he announced the resultant number, it was all I could do not to drop my jaw in shock.

He measured my resting heart rate at 44.


According the to the Mayo Clinic, that is about the resting heart rate of a well-trained endurance athlete. Another site suggests it is the heart rate of an "elite athlete."

Luckily I had told my doctor that I was a runner, because he said that otherwise, that sort of heart rate would cause concern (bradycardia), but for me just signals "a great deal of cardiovascular activity."

But let's think about what a resting heart rate of 44 really means. It means that my heart is now able to work so ridiculously efficiently as a result of all my cardiovascular exercise (running) that it only need beat 44 times a minute in order to deliver the necessary amount of oxygen throughout my body. Most healthy adults (who don't run 15-20 miles a week as I do) have an average resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute.

My mind is still basically exploding from this news. Eighteen months ago I was obese and sedentary. Even just six months ago, several months after I'd started running, I'd measured my resting heart rate to be nearly 90. The title of this blog post is quite literal. In 18 months, I have gone from obese to elite athlete.

Recently, I'd been having some motivation problems. I had been feeling defeated by recent (small) weight gain and less than favorable training sessions. However, this news has most certainly strengthened my resolve, to the point where I cannot wait for that next 80 minute run.

I am an elite athlete.

There is no possible way I could let that go to waste.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Getting Personal: Madivation (When Motivation Comes from a Bad Place)

What motivates you to go running? I don't mean the long-term goals, like losing weight or running a half-marathon. I mean your day-to-day motivation. The thing that pushes you out the door on any particular day. Had a bad day? Compensating for an unhealthy lunch?

When I started running, my motivation came from negativity. I was living in a very toxic environment in terms of my relationship with a family member with whom I shared a home. I would get home from work every day and immediately run out and seek refuge on the road or at the gym. My sprint out the door accelerated if we were fresh off a shouting match, which was often.

I would go out and just run, and run off all my anger and stress. It worked miraculously. After all, I did lose a lot of weight during the time I spent at home. If the shouting match was particularly spectacular, I'd sometimes do a near sprint for an hour and return home nearer to 9pm so I wouldn't have to spend a lot of time at home in my waking hours.

In March, I bought my own place and moved out. I was living on my own again, and immediately I felt more at peace and less stressed. I was golden, right?

Not quite.

Soon after moving, I felt my motivation waning. I'd force myself out the door to run, but I didn't enjoy it anymore. It didn't give me the same exhilarating stress release that had made running so attractive to me in the first place. They won't even good runs -- I'd usually run a mile, then get winded and stop for a few minutes. I felt so defeated. Where did the adrenaline go? Where did my "dammit, Erika, keep pushing" disappear to?

In moving away and thereby "losing" my biggest motivation, though from a negative place, had I lost my motivation altogether?

It's taken me this long to figure it out. Where the heck was my day-to-day motivation going to come from now?

I'm still trying to find new motivation, but I believe that now I'm on my way. Today, I stepped onto my scale to see a troubling number, though one I'd expected given my less-than-disciplined July 4th weekend. Over the past month or so, I've gained back nearly 10 lbs after losing so much. I thought back to how much self-control I had when I hit my goal. I missed that. Today, my motivation was to get that back.

My eating was spectacularly controlled today, and I capped it off with probably one of my best training runs ever. I feel good, in control, and pumped up.

So maybe that's it. I need to remember this feeling and remember that going out and having a great run will make me feel this good. I still need to find other sources of motivation that don't come from negative emotions, but for now at least, I think I've re-discovered my mojo.

It's never comfortable feeling so out of control. Wherever the motivation comes from, it's time to take back the reins.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Race Review: Run for Boston 5K

I was immediately affected the moment I heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April. I'm a relatively new runner, but I hope to someday run a marathon, and even if not, I realize that the Boston Marathon is the preeminent event of all US marathons. The course is also right where I was one year ago for two weeks, at my association's annual conference on Boylston Street.

I watched the horror unfold with absolute shock that awful April 15. I was already signed up for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta (where my sister lives -- she invited me to come down and run it with her and her boyfriend) which has about three times the entries that the Boston Marathon does (Peachtree now caps out at 60,000 entries). It wasn't going to stop me from running it. That would only be what they want. But it did make me nervous.

I heard about a fellow Chicago Running Blogger, Katie of Live Half Full, organizing a Run for Boston 5K in not-too-far Libertyville on the two-month anniversary of the tragedy. I signed up immediately.

I'd been working so ridiculously hard for the last two months that I'd had time to run about, oh, five times since April. For this race, I was not expecting a PR or even a mildly good performance. But I suited up anyway in Boston Marathon Blue early on the morning of June 15 and drove north to Libertyville. The clouds had looked iffy when I departed my place, but I hoped the weather would at least hold out until the end of my race.

Raining hard but ready to race
The second I put my car into park in the parking lot at the Independence Grove forest preserve, the site of the race, raindrops began to hit my windshield. It was literally that instanteous. Luckily I had prepared and brought a running hat (made of a tech material that deflects water), but as we neared start time, the rain started falling harder and consistently.

It was basically full out pouring by the time we lined up for the start. But it was so great to hear from Katie and also the folks from Boston who came out to support the race, namely the representative from the Who Says I Can't foundation (which the race supported). Katie announced that we'd raised $10,000 for Who Says I Can't which was amazing.

I set off at the starting gun with expectations to perform poorly. The course was beautiful -- we ran around the lake in the forest preserve on the trail, which was picturesque despite the weather.

Mid-race, when I decided to make a doofy face
The only issue I really fond with the course was the water station. The water station was placed at about the 1 mile mark, so I did not pick up any water at that point, since it was very early and with it being that early (not at say the 1.5 mile mark as usual for a 5K) I figured there would be a water station at Mile 2. There was not.

I was a little disappointed that there was no water at Mile 2, but it wasn't a massive deal in my mind. I wasn't about to die. In fact, I felt like I could have run
forever, an amazing feat considering I had barely run for two whole months.

Flying across the finish line in record time
Once I was nearing the finish, I realized I was about to hit a new PR. I didn't know how, I didn't understand why (I had barely run in two months!) but I was. Luckily, my "push" song was playing as I rounded the corner to the finish and I threw whatever I could into that last 0.1 miles and finished with what I eventually found out to be a 26:23 PR (by 1:30). I love my finishing photo -- I am flying off the pavement, even at the finish line.

After crossing the finish, I was presented with the finisher water bottle, and grabbed some water and a banana. Sponsors Rosati's and Goose Island 312 beer were present, and I helped myself to some pizza and a, OK a couple, delicious cold beers. Hey, it's good to get some carbs in you after a run, right? RIGHT?!

Anyway, I just felt so pleased with the whole experience. Even if it was a little disorganized, as a meeting planner I understand. The first time you plan any event, there are going to be hiccups and unexpected hurdles. You can't always fix them immediately. It's something you plan for the following year. You just do the best you can and enjoy yourself, which is what I personally did.

I was not only happy crossing the finish line because I knew I had PRed and because I felt like I could run for another five miles, but also because I knew that I was running for something important. I was proud to be a part of this event.

Run for Boston 5K
June 15, 2013
Libertyville, IL

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Going Off the Rails

Recently, I returned from an annual two-week business trip. I know what you're thinking. "Oh, boy, eating out for every meal for two weeks? How did that go?" Well, last year during this trip, I lost weight because as a meeting planner, I was sprinting around a convention center for a week and a half and didn't have time to eat. This year, I thought I'd lose weight or at least maintain. But I changed my tactics and the results were disastrous.

Just as I'd predicted a Kings/Penguins Stanley Cup Final, the exact opposite occurred. I gained. Six pounds.

Of course, I know exactly what I did wrong, and it's the same thing that got me to 230 lbs in the first place. Apparently, my weakness remains: if you put it in front of me, I will eat it.

The thing with these convention center shows is that all the snack break food and beverage options are unhealthy -- cookies, brownies, rice krispy treats, etc. My new tactic this year was based on how things went last year. Whenever I saw some food out, I ate it, because I didn't know when I was going to next be able to eat.

However, this meant that if I saw a big plate of cookies in the staff office, I ate two. Later in the day, if they were still there, I'd eat one more.  

I couldn't stop.

It was like everything I'd worked toward, all the mindset changes had gone right out the window. I knew while I was eating two big cookies that it was wrong and I shouldn't be doing it, but I did anyway. I ordered a cheeseburger and fries for dinner anyway. None of it was terribly satisfying to me taste-wise, but I did it anyway. Even as I was shoveling fries into my mouth, I was thinking, "What the hell am I doing?"

But I knew exactly what I was doing. I could feel it in how my clothing fit, I could see how I looked a lot thicker in those clothes that I looked just fine in last week.

How could things have gone so wrong? Well, I discovered that my willpower can be dented from time to time. That I am still subject to the "if it's in front of me, I'll eat it" temptation. And occasionally, I will give in to that temptation. Giving into it once in a long while might be OK. But the problem this time is that I gave into it several times per day every day for two weeks.

What's funny is that now that I'm back home, my desire for those cookies and burgers and fries has faded. With a 5K scheduled for Saturday, I ran four miles this morning and have consumed about a third of my calorie allowance for today (and it's almost 4pm). I passed by a Long John Silver's in my neighborhood this afternoon and about gagged. I'm back on the wagon.

Is it just so simple that I don't have the cookies and burgers in my home? Possibly. But I think also as soon as I stepped on the scale this morning and saw just how much damage I'd done, in number form and not just my clothes, I shocked myself back into reality.

We all experience bumps in the road when it comes to weight loss, but the most important thing -- the thing that really reveals one's character -- is how one responds to those bumps.

As for me, I know I can't keep doing this. This will not happen again. I will not go back.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making a Difference

Last weekend, the teacher I had for both 3rd and 4th grades (my favorite teacher) had a retirement party. There, I saw one of my good friends from high school with whom I'd sort of lost touch. I'd known her since I was about 7 years old, and we'd been good friends for a long time.

We're Facebook friends, but it was really great to see her in person for the first time probably since high school.

Immediately she came clean with me.

"I've been sort of Facebook stalking your running and weight loss and I wanted to tell you that you inspired me and I signed up for a 5K!" she said excitedly.

I was totally thrown. In a good way.

I've had a lot of people -- ones that I'm in constant contact with and ones that I haven't spoken to in 10 years -- get in touch with me to talk about my weight loss and my running and ask for advice. That in itself has been awesome. There are some people I've barely ever talked to that have asked me about how I started running and what I did to get where I am.

However, this was the first time that someone I have known for a long time told me that I directly influenced her to sign up for a race, something she has never done before. Just because she knew she could. Because she knew I did.

I've said it before, but when I started losing weight and running, I wasn't really doing it for anyone else but me. But it's turned into something a lot bigger than me. I've had friends give me blog post ideas (because what they suggest would help them out), ask me how I started running, what apps or programs I used to start running and how I changed my eating.

I hope to accommodate all those requests soon. My day job is calling at the moment, but when I have more free time, I will get to those blog requests.

But I would like to say thank you to all the supporters I've had and all the people that have asked me for advice and tips. It means a lot to me to have so many people ask me how I did what I did, because, well, it means I really did something, if that makes any sense.

Thanks again and stay tuned for your requests!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Race Review: The Race That's Good for Life 5K

Even before I moved to Oak Park and joined the Oak Park Runners Club, I was in full anticipation of being an Oak Park resident by April. So several months ago, I signed up for the Oak Park Runners Club annual race, The Race That's Good for Life.

Today was race day, and after I had pinned on my bib and laced my D-tag into my shoe, I hoofed the few blocks to Oak Park-River Forest High School (the start and finish site). After a few minutes milling about the high school halls and finding a spot to stretch, I made my way to the starting line for the women's race start at 9:10.

Promptly at 9:10 the starting gun went off (yep, a real starting gun, how fun!) and we were off. It was my own mistake, but I had lined up in a bit of a poor spot. I lined up pretty far back from the starting line, and in the absence of any provided pace markers, I ended up dodging my way through slower runners for the first half mile or so.

Not an ideal situation, but once I made it through the pack, it was pretty smooth sailing. It was a fast course without much elevation change, which may account for my excellent PR of 27:53.5. The finish line was fully stocked with water, gatorade, bananas, granola bars, hummus dip packs, you name it.

So the race was good, well-organized, on a picturesque course through the lovely homes of Oak Park, but the main reason I loved this race was the community. I moved to Oak Park almost a month ago now, and am still getting used to the concept that this is my home and this is my community now. Oak Park, technically speaking, is a small town -- just 4.7 square miles in area with a little less than 52,000 residents.

Most neighborhood races I've run there have been some of the residents that stand on their porch, watching curiously as the runners go by. In Oak Park, people didn't just come out of their homes to idly watch the race. People were standing in their yards, sitting in lawn chairs pulled up to the curb, and cheering.

I'd never been in a neighborhood race where so many residents were watching and enthusiastically clapping, cheering, ringing cowbells and holding motivational signs. Especially as we neared the finish, the sidewalks were just jammed with people cheering on their fellow Oak Park residents. It really lifted me up, and for the first time, I felt like I was really a part of this community, which was a really great feeling for me.

The Race That's Good for Life is definitely a keeper for my 2014 race circuit.

The Race That's Good for Life 5K
April 28, 2013
Oak Park, IL 

See my other past race results and upcoming races here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Opening Your Eyes

This week was difficult for me. I went through some rough patches with a few people close to me (yep, all at once) and after a conversation with my sister and a heart-to-heart with myself, I made some big realizations.

When I lost weight, it wasn't just my body that changed. I changed. The way I think about situations, the way I react to hardships, and the way I approach life's difficulties is light years away from my mindset at 230 lbs.

I didn't just strengthen my body. I strengthened myself.

I am in control of my own destiny and I am in control of my own happiness.

I was surprised at the way I reacted to a particular situation this week. I'd gone through something similar several years ago and at that time, I had just sat back, gave in and let myself be walked all over and defeated. I think back on that now, and I wonder why in the world I did that.

My sister (who, like me, has a psychology degree) said that when I was heavy, she had noticed that I was often that defeatist. She saw someone who had given up. I was of the opinion that I was fat because of genetics and there was nothing I could do about it, so why try? Obviously, that attitude translated to other areas of my life. I had no confidence in myself, my job performance was in the toilet, and I saw no need to change since I thought I would fail (even before I began to try).

Fast forward 92 lbs lost and a few years later to this past week. Faced with a nearly identical situation to that one that had earlier defeated me, I stood up. I faced it head on and I didn't back down. I very easily could have just given up again. With this particular situation, it would be extremely easy just to give up.

But I picked the hard way. The challenging way. The way that had me fighting for what I thought was right.

How did this happen? Why did I completely change my approach to the situation? Well, the weight loss transformation is not solely physical, it's also mental.

Throughout my transformation, I had to dramatically alter my perception of exactly what I was capable of. When I was heavy with no confidence and no fight, I never thought I would be able to lose 92 lbs. I never thought I would have the ability to fit into a size 4 pair of jeans.

But the fact that I did that translates to life situations. Since I eventually got to the point where I stopped giving up on myself and my body, I stopped giving up period. I refuse to be defeated in all aspects of my life now, not just my weight. I don't give up on my relationships with family and friends. I don't give up on challenges at work and because of that I am extremely valued by my employers. When I sometimes feel overwhelmed with how busy I often am, I don't shut down or run away.

I push through, knowing I'll feel better for it. Because that's how it was when I was losing weight. Yes, it was hard, it wasn't always fun, but I pushed through, again, knowing I would be better for it.

There are a lot of obvious benefits of weight loss. Your overall physical health, warding off illness and disease and so on. But one benefit that people might not think of is that mental factor. The strengthening of the mind, attitude and of the personal resolve.

If anyone reading this is wanting to lose weight and you think you can't do it, well, you might think that now. But once you get going, you'll realize you can. You'll realize that not only can you lose weight and change your body, but you can also completely change your mind.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

She Shoots, She Scores!

What the heck does that post title mean?


It means I scored my goal.

On April 16, 2013, I stepped on the scale while I was getting ready for work in the morning and saw the number 139.5 staring back at me. My goal had been 140. I have beaten my goal.

It was a slightly less exciting occasion than I had imagined. Maybe it's because I was tired (it is a very busy time at work now through June and I have been working at home every evening after I get home FROM work). Maybe it's because I was fully anticipating it, having reached a very close number recently and still working toward it. Maybe it's because I didn't necessarily feel any different. As far as heaviness and clothing fit go, 141.5 feels about the same as 139.5.

But regardless, I reached goal, hitting under 140 for the first time since, well, as previously explained, probably some point in high school. It's crazy feeling certain parts of my body now and feeling just how muscular I am, particularly with the muscle being unimpeded by fat. I discovered just today that my obliques are absurdly taut, and I love how now I have a visible collarbone not buried by fat, and my legs are just... well, they're rock hard.

So what now? Now that I've hit goal, how in the world am I to maintain? What if I gain? What if I keep losing because I don't know how to maintain?

For now, I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing. My eating habits have changed so profoundly through the past year and a half that I can't imagine eating any differently than I have been. In fact, at this point, I actually prefer eating as healthily as I do (who would've thought?)

I'm going to keep running too of course. I now have 6 races between now and September (varying 5 and 10Ks) and I have no intention of stopping now. I have everything to owe to running. I couldn't imagine life without it -- it is just that important to me now.

I think back to my first post on this blog in November, when I still had about 20 pounds to go to this point. Then, I said that you can do it. It remains true.

I did.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

1.5 Pounds

1.5 pounds. How much is that really?

It's a bag of 5 medium-sized boneless chicken breasts (incidentally, my favorites).  It's the current incarnation of the iPad. It's a Maine lobster.

It's also how far away I am from my goal weight.

I moved even closer to the city of Chicago just last week, and wasn't able to weigh myself all week because I had been so busy cleaning/unpacking, and with the massive routine changes, most of the time I'd just plain forgot.

I stepped on the scale Saturday and was absolutely shocked to see the number 141.5 staring back at me. My goal weight had always been 140. I am 1.5 pounds away from goal.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. I hadn't been able to run much over the week (and the runs I'd managed had been pretty awful), but I had been feverishly cleaning, scrubbing, jogging around my new condo putting things away and carrying heavy objects for the last seven days. I'd also been home-cooking for about four days of the week, serving up various chicken breast dishes with rice and vegetables for myself and my boyfriend.

1.5 pounds. It was an incredibly exciting number to see, so tangible and reachable. But at the same time, there's some terror attached. What if I stall and the scale doesn't move for weeks? Even worse, what if I gain? That enticing 1.5 number would get taken away from me, and I'd be still further from where I want to be after coming so close.

Even further, what happens after I reach my goal? What if I gain it back again? What if I find I'm completely unable to maintain?

However, there's obviously a huge upside to being 1.5 pounds away. In all of my years of weight struggle, I have never been so close to seeing that magic goal number. In my previous weight loss attempt with Jenny, I'd gotten no closer than 35 pounds away.

I can't even remember the last time I was 140 pounds. In high school, I never weighed myself regularly. Weight was not really a concern to me at the time, since as a two-sport athlete,  I'd always been of a relatively healthy weight all throughout my teenage years. The last time I was 140 pounds was definitely when I was in high school, but I couldn't tell you the exact age.

It still hasn't quite hit me how close I am. It's surreal to be so close, since I never have been this close to goal before. I was walking down the street the other day and caught my reflection in a store window as I passed. I had to stop for a moment, as I was shocked by how skinny I am. This week I also noticed for the first time that my calves are rock-hard muscle with nary an ounce of fat (thanks, running!)

I haven't thought of myself as being skinny for a very long time (if ever).

While the worries are still there, I know that I have changed my lifestyle so profoundly over the past 18 months that I can't see myself going back to how it was. I can't see myself going back to eating an entire box of Kraft Mac and Cheese in one sitting. I can't see myself quitting running -- especially with five races (three 5Ks and two 10Ks) all coming up within the next six months.

This has been an incredible journey, losing 90 pounds. It's been incredibly difficult, but so rewarding. I've discovered amazing things about myself that have truly made me a different person. I've discovered strength in myself that I never knew existed, and that in turn has given me so much confidence and a new-found sense of self-worth, which is something money could never buy.

The journey really has been life-changing -- physically and emotionally. Looking back at it now, going through a life-changing experience is a really exhilarating thing, something everyone should experience in their lives. It of course doesn't have to be weight loss, it can be anything, but the whole concept of a life-changing experience is so incredible. There's really no other word for it.

I'm still going to be a ball of nerves until I hit goal, and I can't even imagine the nutty dichotomy of feelings once I do actually see 140 on that scale. It won't be long now until I see it, and I have to believe that. I've had confidence in myself through this whole process, and I can't stop being confident in my ability to accomplish this now.

1.5 pounds.

I've got this.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Race Review: North Shore Cupid's Love Dash 10K

When I signed up for my first 10K, I was admittedly very nervous. I'd just started running in earnest in August, and suddenly I was running a 10K just a few short months later. However, after making it through the Couch to 5K program and having completed several 5Ks at increasingly impressive paces, I knew I was ready. The date I figured to be done with the 5 to 10K program coincided with the North Shore Cupid's Love Dash (February 10, 2013), and I signed up.

It was a fun, cute concept -- a Valentine's Day weekend race with a sweet theme. Runners could choose to run "solo" or in teams with a significant other or friend. In addition to the usual hydration stations, the course also featured candy stations, which featured volunteers with buckets of candy offering treats to runners as they passed.

I arrived to Highland Park a tad later than I'd intended, only a few minutes before the race start. Parking in Highland Park is not exactly a pleasant experience, and I was scrambling to find a spot before the race started without me. But once I found a spot, I got to the start line with enough time to exchange my race swag bag t-shirt for a better size, hand my car keys off to my boyfriend, who'd come to cheer me on, and get myself situated at the starting line.

At the starting gun, I was overloading on adrenaline as usual, and it was a good thing, because it was at that very second that the freezing rain that had been forecasted for the day began to fall.

Despite the weather, the course was great. It was not too hilly, and provided some great eye candy: the most expensive homes on the North Shore and the Ravinia grounds. The only issue I found was that in some sections, roads were not blocked off and there were no sidewalks, so I got very nervous with cars passing by runners in both directions. It particularly got nerve-wracking near a church, as runners were having to dodge cars turning into the church parking lot, which was experiencing a lot of traffic being that it was a Sunday morning.

There was also one very icy patch of road in Mile 5. Based on a Facebook post from Carpe Diem Racing following the race, they evidently were not permitted by the city to sand or salt the roads, so it was not the fault of the organizers, but it was a concern, especially when a runner right in front of me wiped out rather spectacularly on the ice and everyone had to slow their pace pretty considerably to avoid the same fate on the slick road.

However, once I came through the ice patch, the finish line loomed, and I struggled to put on the best burst of speed I could muster. I finished in 57:43, better than I had even imagined (my official finisher photo shows that I was actually smiling). I was presented with the adorable finisher's medal as I crossed the finish, and I was thankful to have only a few steps to walk to grab a water, banana, and a Muscle Milk.

My boyfriend snagged this photo as I ate my banana and held up my medal.

It was a great race overall. Not only did I get the confidence knowing that I could run a 10K in that kind of time just months after taking up running, but I also appreciated the great organization and small entry size of the race. I'd definitely run the Love Dash again next year -- but hopefully freezing rain won't be in the forecast again!

North Shore Cupid's Love Dash 10K
February 10, 2013
Highland Park, IL 

See my other past race results and upcoming races here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Your Best Training Run Ever

Ever have a training run after which you have a moment of pure clarity and inspiring confidence in yourself? When you realize at the end: "I can do this," and you would cry if you were a little better hydrated?

Maybe you ran your first mile without stopping, or you broke an eight-minute mile for the first time, or finished your first marathon. Regardless of whatever it is you did, you feel an incredible sense of pride in yourself and have a kind of epiphany.

I had that today. And let me tell you, there is nothing like that moment of pure clarity.

After a very busy, stressful, and frustrating day at work, I came home, had a spectacular screaming match with someone I live with, and stormed out the door to the gym. I'd been planning to simply re-do Week 7 Day 2 (which consists of some tempo runs) of my 5 to 10K Program as I'd been having trouble with fueling the previous two times I attempted it and could barely finish.

However, I arrived at the gym so full of adrenaline that after my 5-minute warmup on the treadmill, I changed gears and suddenly decided to do Week 7 Day 3 -- a 55 minute steady run. Typically, I reserve the long runs for the weekends when I have a little more time to spend at the gym. But I thought, "Hell, I can do this. And I'm going to do it right now."

I did. And in that 55 minute run, I ran 5.7 miles.

It's my longest distance, my longest run duration, and provided me my greatest moment of clarity. In the last four minutes, my ultimate pump-up song, "How You Like Me Now?" by The Heavy serendipitously came up in my playlist. I felt myself filling with another burst of adrenaline, and pumped up the speed a few decimals for those last few minutes.

I was shocked at what I'd done. 26 days (according to my RunKeeper countdown) before my first 10K race, I'd run (stopping briefly only twice to sip some water) just one half-mile short of the race distance. And based on the time in which I did it, it suddenly became abundantly clear to me that not only was running a 10K under an hour somewhat feasible, it was real.  

I could run a 10K in under one hour.
Less than six months ago, I couldn't even run for five straight minutes without stopping.

When I'd set a goal for myself for this race, knowing I'd never run the distance before, I kept my goal at a generous 1:10 or less. But just in this training run, including my 10 total minutes of warm-up and cool down walking, I'd done over (6.3 miles) a 10K -- in 1:05. That's with 10 full minutes of walking.

I could run a 10K in under one hour.

And I will. How you like me now?