Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One Bad Day

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.”

- Dr. Seuss

Everyone is entitled to a bad run, just like everyone is entitled to a bad day. In both cases, I think it’s a sign that some wiring is loose somewhere.

My Sunday long run was a suffer-fest. It was my typical 10-mile run, and I finished it. On paper it was great. My average was a little slower than usual, but still under 8 minutes a mile. However, in practice, I was not happy. My legs were tight and tired, I got a stitch in my side and I just felt exhausted. It didn’t help that I tried out a new section of the bike path – which was incredibly boring. Long stretches of the path where you could see two miles ahead of you in a straight line with a gradual incline the entire way. And no views – which is never a good thing.

At seven miles in I stopped briefly on the side of the path, doubled over and just wished the 10 miles to be over soon. This is not how I’ve been running lately at all.

But as I said: everyone is entitled to a bad run. It’s okay. And if I had been listening (and not ignoring) the signs of my body throughout the week, I would have seen it coming. I had pushed myself hard on Wednesday. I had been feeling great at the time, so I went all out. And then I moved my weights to Friday, so my legs were tired going into the weekend. And my four-mile run on Saturday was dragging. But I ignored all that, got up bright and early on Sunday and said “screw you tired body,” and headed out for the 10 miles. Again, it was fine and I finished. But it taught me to pay more attention to my body. And it also reminded me that I still have a lot of work to do to reach the level of fitness that I want. I may be feeling great physically these days, but training for a marathon next year will take its toll.

My body was hurting on Sunday afternoon. Back tightened up, legs were sore. And my lack of runners high placed me in a bit of a funk. I took the opportunity to do a self check on my mental state. It’s been two months since my grandfather died. The man who raised me. Two months since a year of intense caregiving came to an end. I had been mentally going non-stop for those months at a very high level. If I wasn’t coordinating, cooking, visiting, planning or in a hospital – I was thinking about coordinating, cooking, visiting, planning or being in a hospital. Not to mention, keeping up with a busy job. My brain had been on overdrive.

When it all came to an end on September 12 – I shut down. And I’ve been running on auto pilot since. Not only am I sad that my grandfather is gone, but all of the hard memories of losing my mom a short three years ago came to the surface. To be honest, I haven’t grieved much outwardly. I did a lot of that while my grandfather was sick. Instead, I have just turned inward and have been spending a lot of time with myself lately. I’ve been cherishing quiet weeks and weekends; a routine workout schedule; starting an introspective blog (thanks for reading); not wanting to be very social at all; and spending time at my family home with my grandmother. It’s been good for me. I think my psyche has been healing. I’ve been using this time to just hang out with “me” and not burden myself with sad thoughts.

Basically, I’ve just been going through the motions over the last eight weeks, hiding out, and thinking that I was okay. Not realizing that I had been fooling myself. But all it takes is one bad day to compel you take a hard look inward to realize that you’re really not fine. Not yet.

Just like you’re allowed to have a bad run now and then. You’re allowed to have a bad day. In the same way, it teaches you to listen to yourself and it reminds you that there’s still a lot of healing to be done. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top Five (Part 1): Rides to Remember

Today I thought I’d share with you my top five favorite road bike rides of my short cycling career. I also wanted to share my top five rides dream rides. My hope is that this starts a conversation. I want to hear what your favorite rides have been – and what are your dream rides? Maybe, with your help, we can all add a few great ideas to our dream ride lists. I plan to write a similar post on runs.

I started road biking for the first time in 2007. I really got serious about it in 2008/2009. So this is all new to me. My husband has been cycling for 20+ years. He has been my mentor and teacher. He should win awards for his patience. He has dragged my novice butt across rural farm roads, through absolute collapses and up and over mountains in Colorado and France. I dedicate my entire list of accomplishments and dreams to him – because without his skill and passion for the bike, none of this would have even been imaginable.

Needless to say, I was hooked on two wheels. So let me take you on a journey of my favorite rides to date and on some of the adventures that I hope still stand ahead of me.

First Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge:
This ride was special for me. And it is the reason that I am still cycling today. I first climbed on a bicycle when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. Dave had always been an avid cyclist and had been wearing a “yellow bracelet” for a few years. When my mom was diagnosed, Livestrong was the first place I thought to Google. I was desperate for a way to be involved in my mom’s fight. I remember coming across the webpage for the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge – and thought, hey! here’s something I could do to raise money and be involved. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in….let’s just say years…so I thought, 10 miles. I can do this. I started riding with Dave and was hooked. Pretty soon I upped my distance to 40 miles and started training. That year leading up to the Challenge, my mom and I raised $17,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. And we befriended tons of staff at their headquarters in Austin. They were an amazing support group and an amazing outlet for us during those tough days.

My mom, who was in a wheelchair and on oxygen by then, had planned to come to Philly to support the team. Less than a week before the Challenge, I coordinated with Livestrong staff to make arrangements to get her comfortably to the top fundraisers dinner the night before. She was so proud of what we had accomplished and so excited to make the trip. Then, three days before the Challenge, my mom died. We were devastated. There was no way we would go to Philadelphia now. We were exhausted and broken. But then, my friends began to e-mail each other and say “let’s make sure the team still rides in Nicole’s mom’s honor.” I saw those e-mails and was inspired. I e-mailed Livestrong and told them I was still coming. They wrote me back and told me that they had a staff meeting and decided to dedicate that year’s Challenge to my mom.

When we showed up at the fundraising dinner, Doug Ulman, CEO of Livestrong, asked me to stand at the start of his speech. And he told my mom’s story in front of the crowd, in front of Lance Armstrong. It was a small gesture but it had a huge impact on me. I only wished that my mom was there to hear it.

The next day – after barely sleeping for more than a week and not getting on a bike for two weeks – I rode those 40 miles. My longest ride ever at that point. My legs were Jell-O, my spirit soared and plummeted like a roller coaster. But I did it. With Dave on one side of me and my brother in law on the other – I crossed that line. And my mom was with me in my heart and in the cheers of the crowd all around me.

A month later at the Ride for the Roses in Austin I had the opportunity to meet Lance briefly.  We were allowed to bring one thing for him to sign and I brought a photo of us crossing the finish line. He asked me about it and I told him the story. Then he looked up at me and said “wait, you were the one Doug was talking about at Philly this year?” “Yep, that was me,” I said. My eyes teared up. He remembered my story. Even in death, my mom made an impact. I thanked him for being an inspiration and I turned and walked away before I blubbered something stupid through my tears. That autographed picture is now framed and hangs on my wall. It inspires me every day to keep getting back on my bike. We have returned to the Challenge every year since then and our team (Team Revolution) just keeps getting bigger (yes, I'll work on recruiting you later). Including that first year, we have raised nearly $65,000 for Livestrong. And each time I cross that line, I feel my mom in my heart.

The famous photo. Crossing the finish at my first Livestrong Challenge.
Husband Dave on the right. Brother-in-law Bob on the left.
Suffering Nicole in the middle.
Col du Tourmalet, Pyrenees, France:
The Col du Tourmalet is by far my greatest physical achievement on two wheels. It is a cycling Mecca (and I’m sure that many of you reading this now are nodding your head in agreement). I have already written a detailed account of my journey up to the summit. I hope you take a moment to click here and read it.  But what I didn’t detail in that account is the year of training that it took me to get there. Comfortably reaching the top of the Col du Tourmalet was a culmination of hundreds of hours on the bike and in the gym. Not only did I want to climb it last July, but I wanted to enjoy it. So yes, this ride is in my top five because it is the most famous and difficult climb of the Tour de France but it’s also in the top five because it represented an amazing personal victory for me. And that made the summit that much sweeter. Again, I’d love for you to read my account from my Tour de France travel blog. And click here for the Garmin ride data for Tourmalet (the first part is Dave coming down the mountain to get me).

At the top of the famous Col de Tourmalet.

Port de Bales, Pyrenees, France:
Climbing Port de Bales, also in the Pyrenees, was just fun. It was also a crazy hard climb. Dave and I were staying in the small spa town of Luchon, France. The stage of the Tour de France was finishing in town that day. We were able to roll out through the barriers and under the 1km banner and head up the mountain to the summit. Again, I have detailed this amazing climb in my Tour de France blog – and I recommend you visit it and read it when you have a moment. Being at the summit of the climb to see the cyclists arrive was amazing. But knowing that we had cycled up the side of the mountain to get there just made it cool. The narrow, snakelike road, rose through alpine meadows with craggy peaks in the distance. We wound through countless tiny mountain villages along the way up. The scene was so typically French and the mountains made it spectacular. It was just an incredible experience. Again, click here to read details. Click HERE for our Garmin ride data (if you're into geeky stats.)

Climbing up Port de Bales. Check out those views.

Lefthand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado:
This ride was tough. And it was early in the year for me, so it was a good indicator of how my training was coming along for our big trip to France. It was a 60-mile loop starting outside of Boulder, Colorado. You head out of town and up the famous Lefthand Canyon. Once you start climbing up through the canyon it is about a 15-mile climb with a 9-10% average. I had driven that way a few times over the years, but had always wanted to conquer it by bike. At the top, you are rewarded with the tiny town of Ward, Colorado – a mix of hippies and good ol’ boys. The town is a collection of broken houses, rusted cars, more rusted cards and a tiny coffee shop for cyclists – all strewn across both sides of the narrow, climbing road into the side of the mountain. Seeing the first giant peace sign sprayed onto a piece of plywood on the side of the road is like a breath of fresh air because you know that the most difficult part of the climb is now behind you. After passing through Ward, we coasted across part of the Peak to Peak Highway on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park. Then you turn to head down hill through St. Vrain's Canyon – which was like coasting down a giant slide at 30-40 mph through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. Then we chugged another 15 miles back to the car. I was exhausted, but tested. Tourmalet was only six weeks away!

Here are the Garmin ride stats.

Heading down St. Vrain's Canyon.
Lac de Serre-Pocon, outside Gap, France (Alps):
Cycling around Serre-Pocon Lake in the Alps was probably the prettiest ride I’ve ever experienced. Again, I have a detailed description on my Tour de France Blog. But it was just beautiful. The lake was enormous and turquoise blue, the day was beautiful, the mountains reached for the sky all around us. We cycled along the shore line, across causeways, up steep mountain passes with massive drop-offs on the side. The end of the 50-mile ride was absolutely brutal. But what’s better than being able to stop along the way to drink out of a hose and buy fresh fruit from a tiny French roadside market? The ride was somewhat of a surprise. We planned it on a whim, to be close to the finish of the stage in Gap that day – and it ended up being one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever taken.

View of Lac de Serre-Poncon from the ride.

Top 5 Rides I Want to Do (and plan to, someday)

Leadville Loop (80-miles)
This is my goal for next June when we head out to Colorado. Last year, we cycled the Vail Pass and more than anything I wanted to try this loop that heads through the highest-altitude town in the United States. But I wasn’t in good enough shape. This year, it’s my goal to be able to tackle it in June. I look forward to taking you on that journey with me.

Livestrong Challenge Century
Team Revolution will be returning to Philly for the Livestrong Challenge next August – and this year I plan to complete my first century ride. Fingers crossed!

West Side of Tourmalet on a sunny day
I climbed up one side of Tourmalet, and one day, I’d like to climb up the other. This time, I want it to be a sunny day so I can actually see the amazing views as a reward for the intense climb.

Driving down the other side of Tourmalet. The side I'd like to climb next.

Mt. Evans, Colorado
I read that this is the highest road in the United States. So, of course, I’d like to climb it one day. It’s on the list!

Wintergreen Mountain (again)
Last year on my birthday, I asked to go out to the Blue Ridge parkway to ride for the weekend (isn’t that what every girl wants for her birthday?). That weekend we tackled the Wintergreen Mountain Climb – which tops out at 15%+. It was in the middle of a 50-mile ride. I had to get off my bike and walk up the very end of the climb. Thinking about it now still makes me angry. This year I want to ride up that entire climb no matter how much it hurts. Hey Dave, birthday, hint, hint?

Tiny Nicole struggling up Wintergreen Mountain last year.
Yep, this is what I wanted for my birthday.

Thanks for reading through my list. I hope it inspired you to add a few rides to your dream list. I’d love for you to fill the comments section with some of your favorite accomplishments or your dream rides (or both!). Let’s grow this list! I need some more ideas!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Music in My Head

This weekend I forgot my iPod at work. Which meant that I didn’t have it for my long run on Sunday. And if you just shuttered thinking about running 10 miles without music, then you and I are in the same camp. Not only would I miss the steady harmonic beats willing my feet forward, but I’d face running that long distance without my Nike Plus coach whispering my time, mileage and pace in my ear every mile (and recording my stats!).

For a split second I thought, “Do I not run today?” But then I erased that silly thought from my head as quickly as it arrived. Of course I would run. This would be a good experiment. The last time I ran a long distance without my music was the Hartford Half Marathon in early October. It wasn’t a great run for me. I wasn’t happy with my time. I haven’t figured out yet if it was from a lack of sleep, the crazy blisters I got about halfway through or the fact that I wasn’t used to running without music. I’m guessing the first two things had more to do with it, but on Sunday I was still mentally psyched out for spending the next hour and 15 minutes fighting through my 10-mile run inside my own head.

Luckily it was a gorgeous fall day. Fifty degrees, blue skies and just-past-peak colors in the trees. And luckily, I knew that route well enough that I knew exactly where certain mileage points were along the way, including my 5-mile turnaround. I did grab a stop watch to stick in my pocket, because I’m obsessive about time and pace. And then I set out, quietly, mentally preparing myself for the next 75 minutes.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that the run turned out perfectly fine. In fact, it was my fastest 10-mile training run to date. Even without my favorite bands wooing me along, I managed to keep up a 7:30 min/mile pace and finished with a strong sprint. And I had a very therapeutic time along the route.

I heard myself breathing – which I’m not accustomed to doing. So I thought about it a lot and tried to slow it down and take deeper breaths. I thought about my stride a little bit more than usual. Stood up straighter. Focused on my foot placement. And I had some interesting conversations with myself that weren’t interrupted by the changing of the songs on my typical shuffle setting. I find when I run that I don’t think about things that are going on in the present time. My mind wanders to the future. I plan things. I daydream scenarios. I find a happy, sometimes fictional place to live for awhile.

I have to admit, there were a few tough times along the run when I felt myself fading and I longed for an up-tempo song to help me kick my legs back into gear. But instead, I thought about my arm placement and used the motion to propel me instead of the latest top 40 song.

The most fun part of my quiet run was all of the great sounds I heard along the route. Things I have never heard on my runs before. A few “hellos” and “have a great run” from fellow runners. Great conversations between children and parents as they raced down the path next to me. Dogs barking in yards. Winds through the dry leaves on the path. And during my last half mile when I needed my music the most, what did I hear? A rooster! Crowing its heart out in someone’s back yard. That made me laugh and brought me home during that final sprint.

I’m not going to fib and tell you that I’m a new woman and my iPod stays at home from now on – because, I’m just not there yet. But the thought of 75 minutes with myself doesn’t scare me as much anymore. And I may leave the earphones at home now and then and run to the music in my head. It was a surprisingly great experience. And a lesson learned.

But I’ll tell you one thing. You’ll never find me on a dreadmill without a little Lady Gaga to get me through the pounding. That’s 45 minutes of staring at myself in a mirror when the music in my head just won’t cut it.

Do you run with music or to your own rhythm? Or do you mix it up? If you train with music, how do you handle running a race without it? Drop me a comment and let me know.

Friday, November 5, 2010

First You Must Finish

There’s nothing like a little inspiration on a random rainy Thursday in November. Last night Dave and I went to see the nationwide showing of Race Across The Sky 2010 about the Leadville 100. And lucky for you, there is an encore showing of it at select theaters next Tuesday night, Nov. 9. If you like cycling, running, endurance sports, Colorado or testing the limits of the human spirit…..go. Buy your tickets before it’s sold out. I guarantee that you will be handed a plate of inspiration on a silver platter.

The Leadville 100 is a grueling, out-of-this-world mountain bike race based out of the highest altitude town in the United States. It’s open to the public through a lottery system. You don’t have to be a world class athlete to participate, but you do have to train your butt off if you expect to finish before the cut off times. The race is an interesting combination of road and mountain biking and it draws elite pro-cycling athletes to its helm. In 2009, Lance Armstrong raced Leadville and broke the course record, dethroning 6-time Leadville champion Dave Wiens. Last year, Levi Leipheimer took a challenge from Lance to take on the battering course. This time, Levi broke Lance’s course record and gave Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (aka JHK), the Olympian and nine-time national champion, the ride of his life. 

But Leadville isn’t only about the world champions. The real story is about the 1,500 brave souls and average Joes who win the lottery and take on the ride of their lives each year. You must be 18 to register for the lottery and that’s about the only restriction. You get all ages and skill levels - but with one thing in common, fire in their hearts and the glint of a belt buckle in their eyes. (If you finish under 12 hours you get the famous Leadville belt buckle to show off). You have cancer survivors and 75-year olds, fathers and mothers, grandparents, pros and first-time riders. It’s quite an amazing story actually.

From the opening credits when the sun hit the mountain peaks, I could feel a fire burning. Everyone who knows me and Dave knows that Colorado is our favorite place on the planet. I just wanted to jump out of my seat and hike right into that screen and be there. I looked over at Dave and I saw the glimmer in his eyes as well. Dave has talked about taking on Leadville for years, and I think (hope) that the movie sealed the dream for him. All I could think about was how much I would love to be his support crew for that race one day. I want to see him ride across the red carpet. Next year, I will be cheering him on (hopefully) at the Durango Iron Horse in Colorado - but sometime in the next few years I expect to be lining up at the finish line at Leadville.

And for me? Mountain biking is not my sport. But watching that movie made me want to go out and dig deep and do something epic. Right now, I have my sights set on running my first marathon out in Boulder, CO next September. But it’s making me antsy that it’s almost a year away. In early June, (a week after Dave’s Iron Horse) we do plan to make a trek out to Leadville. There is an 80-mile road loop over several mountains at high altitude that I want to conquer. Hopefully that will give Dave a taste of Leadville and spur that fire for taking on the true dirt race some day.

What Race Across the Sky reinforced for me is that there is a reason why people take on these grand challenges and it’s certainly not to win them (unless you are Levi, Dave, Lance or JHK). The goal for most of these people is just to finish these races. In fact, the goal for many is to complete a year of training and simply to be ready to stand on that start line whether they finish or not. It’s all about digging deep and testing your limits. There is something cathartic about that. One of my favorite lines from the live discussion before the film was that everyone needs their own Leadville bag to reach into when they need an extra push in their lives. A place to reach back into the hurt locker to dredge up that extra fire to get you through the tough times. Whether your Leadville bag is actually Leadville or if it’s the half marathon, 10K or road race that you are training for – everyone needs something to reach for and suffer through before you know what your limits truly are.

As Dave Towle, the moderator, said last night, in order to finish first, first you must finish. And that means inspiration first, then training, then making it to the starting line, suffering at your very best and finally crossing that finish in whatever time it takes you. That’s how you figure out what you’re made out of.

Go see the encore of Race Across the Sky next week. And if my blog post didn’t inspire you, then visit the Web site and watch the awesome trailer. I may not be racing out to sign up for Leadville myself, but I did manage to drag myself out of bed this morning for a 6:30 a.m. run and I think the movie had a lot to do with that.

Official Race Across the Sky 2010 Leadville 100 Site

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stuff that Remembers

“Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”
– George Carlin

I think that most of us are only a few bad days away from being the next feature on an episode of Hoarders. Granted, I come from a family that keeps “stuff.” But I think we all have our hidden piles of it. Some people have it stacked openly on their dining room tables or on the floor in the corner of the basement. Others have it tucked away in drawers, closets or garages. But we all have it: stuff.

Dave and I live in a townhouse. It’s not a tiny place, but it’s not big either. And lately, I’ve been feeling like stuff has been piling up around my ears. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I need more closets,” or “what I wouldn’t give to have a garage!” But really, how much stuff do two people need? Apparently a lot.

It doesn’t help that we both have hobbies that involve a lot of equipment. Cycling for one. We have several bikes, bike equipment, bike travel boxes, indoor trainers, outdoor racks, work stands, and tools, tools, tools. My husband is also into photography, computers, hockey, scuba diving and do-it-yourselfing. All activities that require a lot of equipment. I don’t have as many hobbies (and my running shoes don’t take up a lot of room), but I do have a lot of clothes and shoes, I have crafty stuff for when I get inspired and I keep mementos for maybe scrapbooking one day.  We both also love cooking and so we have a lot of kitchen equipment and cookbooks and serving ware from our wedding registry years ago. Oh yeah, and books. Between the two of us, we could open a library.

Add all of that together in a little house with no garage and what does that equal? Stuff.

I have the common difficulty that I often attach sentimental value to my stuff. Maybe it’s an only child, of only children syndrome? But my stuff is important to me. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really embraced the art of purging and donating our unused stuff. Wow, does it feel good to drive a car full of it to Good Will. But I do tend to hang on to the types of things that one would put in a scrapbook (if you made scrapbooks, which I don’t have time to do). I can’t get rid of photos, ticket stubs, greeting cards, letters, mementos. I have boxes of them. And I’m not really sure what I’ll do with any of it, except, well, just remember.

Recently, I’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff. Dave and I just did a massive purging of our furnace room – which was easy. It was mostly junk, old paint cans and trash. It’s all gone now and we can reach our laundry machines again. Phew. But we’ve also been going over to my family home on the weekends to help start the process of purging a lifetime of stuff. Some of it is easy, and some of it is painfully difficult.

I found some of my old clothes and at first it’s simple, donate, donate, donate, donate….oh wait, my old prom dress (keep), my old track varsity jacket (keep), donate, donate, oh I remember the dance I wore this to (keep). Yes, I got rid of a lot of stuff, but now I have random plastic boxes of odds and ends that I’m not sure what I’ll ever do with, except, well, just remember.

Then I started going through some drawers and boxes of mementos that I kept from high school and college. Most of it I kept, I just repacked it neatly and protected into plastic containers for storage. Again, I couldn’t handle parting with it, so there it is. At least I got rid of three quarters of the stuff.

I started going through a back corner of junk in a bookshelf. A lot of my mom’s old Real Estate training books, trash, trash, trash, shred, trash….stop.

I found a high school scrap book she put together and all purging halted. I sat down, flipped through the pages, and found prom invitations, funny letters and cards, old pressed flowers, newspaper clippings. All the same types of things that I was just sheepishly packing away from my own youth. It was the story of her young teen life. A story she is no longer here to share with me. A story that I absolutely cherish. Then, also on the shelf, I found a decade’s worth of letters between her and my father. A father who is no longer in my life – but again, a story that she is no longer here to share. It dawned on me that some of this “stuff” is actually really important.

I’m running out of people who can tell me about what my life was like as a child. And so, these “things,” these stuffed animals, drawings, report cards, letters, awards, they tell a story. It gives a chance for me to sit and remember. I wonder if my children will one day pry open one of these plastic boxes and see a window into their mom’s life. I hope so.

I recommend purging now and then, it feels great. It helps you realize what is important and what is not. It is the stuff that makes you stop everything, sit down, and remember, that is worth keeping around. The other stuff, is just stuff. Keep things that will tell the story of you. You never know who will pry open that box someday. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Monday may be my new favorite day of the week. Yesterday I tried out my first yoga class (well, not my first ever, but my first in many years.) And it was wonderful. Exactly what this inflexible, stressy girl needs once a week. I enjoyed it a great deal and I think I’m going to stick with it through the winter months. It will be a great addition to my high impact workout schedule. A good way to wind down, decompress and work on some trouble areas. There’s no reason to be pounding the pavement six days a week.  

In the beginning of the class, our instructor had us mentally walk through a door and leave the rest of our world behind us. That’s very hard to do. Our eyes were closed, we were breathing and then ooops, the world would knock. But she would say again, if reality seeps in push it back to the other side of that door. You’re in here right now and everything else is in another room. That part is going to take some practice, but I like the idea of it.

It’s fun to try new things though. It helps you learn things about yourself. In that hour, I learned a lot that can be applied to the rest of my life. First, I need to work on my balance. I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of person. If I’m driven to do something, I will get it done and done well. If nothing’s pushing me, things fall through the cracks. My mental state and peace of mind would be healthier if I learned how to balance all aspects of my life on an even playing field. If I pull my right foot up, I’m holding that pose like a rock. But push me out of my comfort zone and have me lift my left foot? I’m all over the place. Yoga will be a good opportunity to help me get grounded.

I need to work on my arm strength. In elementary school, I used to be the only girl in class who could do pull-ups. In fact, I beat a lot of the boys. I’d get up to the bar and start going and the other kids would start to count….1, 2, 3…I think my record was 10. But it’s a lot easier to pull yourself up when you’re a tiny 12-year-old and the weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders. Life’s caught up with me and I’m not sure if my chin could reach over that bar now. Ask me to run 10 miles, no problem. But do 10 push-ups? Ouch. I will be a better overall athlete, runner and cyclist if I do more work on my arms this winter. Yoga (and some more weight training) will help me gain strength to be able to lift myself with confidence and ignore the weight of the world.

I need to work on my flexibility. I was the girl in elementary school who could pass everything on the fitness test, pull ups, sit-ups, mile, etc – but I could never, not once, touch my toes. My leg muscles are tight. After college, I was in physical therapy for some leg injuries and the doctor who was working on me told me, and I quote, “I have the tightest legs of any female he had ever worked on.” And I don’t think he meant that in a good way. My hamstrings are like rocks. And that can present problems for your lower back and make you susceptible to all sorts of injuries. I’m just not a very flexible person in general. When things don’t go my way, or change at the last moment, I break down. I spend my life plowing forward without anticipation of inevitable changes or hiccups, just like I race forward with my running without worrying about pulled muscles. I’m hoping yoga helps me slow down, think about things, stretch and prepare my self a little better for the bumps and reaches of life.

I was so focused on getting every move right. Making sure my body was in the right position, my arms were holding steady and I held my downward facing dog long enough, that every time the instructor yelled out: “deep breaths.” I realized, I had forgotten to breathe. I was so worried about everything else that I was holding myself tense and not doing the relaxing part. When those breaths began to flow, everything actually felt easier and I felt the power of each stretch run through my body. If you remember to breathe, everything works better.

At the end of the class, our eyes were closed again. The lights were off. And the music was down low. It became much easier to keep the rest of the world in the other room. I was breathing and my body was relaxed. The instructor told us that this is a state that we don’t have to go to a yoga studio to achieve. Everyone can always take a few moments in their day, when the world is knocking down your door to take some breaths and step out into another room in your mind. And to focus on those things like balance, strength and flexibility that can get in the way of a healthy life. I’m just going to have to remember to breathe.

I have a lot of work to do.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Path More Traveled

 “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.”

The W&OD Trail is a 45-mile paved multi-use path
in the Northern VA suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Washington D.C. area is lucky to have an extensive network of paved biking paths. And I’m lucky enough to live less than a mile away from the best trail in the area – the 45-mile paved Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD – pronounced locally as the “WAD”). My gym, my bike shop, my Whole Foods are all directly off the trail near my house. My husband and I are “path-letes” many days a week. I run on it all the time, it’s a perfect way to get my long runs in on Sunday mornings. We both use it as a main artery to get out to more rural roads for road cycling on the weekends. And my husband uses it occasionally to get into Washington D.C. for work or back, because it connects with a series of other bike paths that lead into the city. 

Anyway, I thought that I would write a quick post paying homage to the trail I know and love, use and abuse. I’m throwing in a little trail etiquette at the same time.

What I’ve learned on the "Wad":

  1. If there is sunshine on the weekend, it’s going to be crowded. If it’s chilly, cloudy, rainy you will have the whole beautiful trail to yourself.
  2. Beware of deer, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels and dogs crossing directly in front of you.
  3. If you come up on a crosswalk with a stoplight, 9 times out of 10 it will be the “don’t walk” sign.
  4. If you are someone running ahead of me, you are a competitor.
  5. If you are someone passing me, you are a pace setter.
  6. If you are someone running toward me, you’re my friend and I smile and nod.
  7. If you are wearing a white button down with a black tie and you are offering lemonade, I’m not interested in your religion.
  8. Gentlemen, making a kissing face or a “call-me” sign while passing me is not going to win my heart, especially if you’re on roller blades.
  9. If I’m on a bike, I always feel like I should be running.
  10. If I’m running, I always feel like I should be on a bike.
  11. If you have a full team kit with matching bike, you’re probably over 50 and out of shape (but it’s better than blowing your fortune on a sports car.)
  12. If you are running with ear phones, please check behind you before turning around and veering directly into the path of my bike.
  13. If you ring a bell at me, I will ignore you, but if you nicely let me know you’re coming up behind me I will gladly stay to the side.
  14. To the wanna-be pro’s out there, remember you are on a multi-use bike path. This is not the place to get your interval workout in. Please don’t race past recreational cyclists at 30 mph and act annoyed. Find an open road.
  15. If you have a bike path like this near your house – use it, get outside, take advantage of what a lot of people don’t have. It’s a wonderful resource in a community and I’m so thankful to have access to it.

And if you live in the Washington D.C. area and you want to be involved in preserving this wonderful resource, visit the Friends of the W&OD Trail.

What have you learned on your local bike paths? I’d love to add more comments to the list.

Dave forging a fresh path on the W&OD
in Vienna after the Blizzard of 2010.