Friday, December 23, 2011

Race Report: Downtown Jingle 5K

Here we are, my final - and fittingly, 11th - 5K of 2011.

I gotta say, I was sad to see this day come. I love racing so much. I always say if I didn't run races, I wouldn't run at all. Training is boring, you need the payoff of a race.

Now I'm looking at weeks of half-marathon training before I toe my next starting line: March 3, 2012, not that I'm counting the days or anything. Ahem.

Anyway, before I get all nostalgic, let's recap the Downtown Jingle 5K, held in Providence, RI. I last ran in Providence in September and it was a huge, well-organized, fun race.

Per usual as of late, I was joined by my domestic running life partner, Sandy.

She is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and a person who overcame a chronic, debilitating illness to lose 50 lbs, get fit and get addicted to racing this year. You want an inspiration? Look her way, she's my hero.

We met at the registration area, which was in the Rhode Island Convention Center. This was great because it meant indoor toilets and heat. And a Merry Christmas to you, race organizers!

I love running with friends because they will take pictures of you. Goofy ones like at the top (in which I was trying to show off my bad-ass flexing muscle face, but it looks more like "I want to punch Sandy in the face" face - and I assure you I did not):

And hopeful before-the-race ones like this:

Amusingly, I was pretty much right on the money with my imagined starting position.

We got our bibs and then "warmed up" by toting our crap to and our gear from our cars. The weather was perfect: 50 and partly cloudy. A little chilly, but by Mile 2 that's a good thing.

Soon it was time to get lined up and take off. I really the like the Providence race series. It's very well organized, they have cool shirts and the courses are fun and interesting. Here I am looking toward the start line with the other 10-minute-milers.

Anyway, Santa let rip the starter's pistol and we were off. I had no idea what the course would be like, but I figured it would be pretty flat if earlier races in this area were any indication. After a half-mile I knew I had gone out fast, but I felt OK - good, even. At Mile 1, the gun clock was at 9-something, which means I put in a 10-minute mile. Wow.

I was also closely monitoring my lower back. I hurt it on Thanksgiving and had only run once (on a treadmill) since. That run went well, so I figured I was well enough to race. Before the race my back felt fine. And, so far during, it was good, too. It was a little stiffer than normal, but nothing that screamed "STOP AND WALK."

I was chugging along pretty well and by Mile 2, stiff back and all I was still running around a 10-minute mile. Maybe I could PR this. Maybe, just maybe, I could go sub-30.

Wow, what a way to end the racing year.

I knew if I wanted to finish in under 30 minutes, I had to hit the Mile 3 clock at 28-something. Anything 29 minutes and up would make it too close to call for the last tenth, even in a sprint. Soon it was Mile 3 and the clock read 29:15. Oh, well. If I sped it up, I could still PR.

So that's just what I did. I held a little back for the entire race to leave a little in the tank for the last tenth. I passed the Mile 3 clock and sped up as best I could, crossing at 30:42 and a 9:55 pace. 9:55!

What a great way to close my racing season. Sub-30 may have eluded me, but there's always next year.

Other notes:

  • It was neat when the National Anthem started and, like, 1,000 people solemly took off their Santa hats, reindeer headbands, etc., and placed them over their hearts.

  • The Tran-Siberian Orchestra's "Wizards in Winter" was the perfect pre-race, psych-up song for a holiday run. You hear that, Slattery's?

  • Jingle bells are not a good race giveaway. Why? Well, most people tied them to their sneakers. By Mile 2, most of the bells untied themselves, leaving a race course covered in loose, break-your-ankle bells.

    Sandy found a video of the finish line. I come across on the right at 2:06 right neat the end of Wham's "Last Christmas," which my BFF Ann would love.

    I have never seen myself run on a video. I always pictured myself as somewhat graceful when I run, not Kenyan by any means but, you know, smooth stride, efficient, compact.

    Rather, I look like a '70s-era Dodge stoner van about to lose all four wheels. Ugh.
  • Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Maintenance Weigh-In #4

    This one really, truly, pissed me off.

    Last month I made my personal goal and was hoping to drop just a few more pounds over November to get a little more wiggle room under that number.

    All fall I've been staying dead on plan with eating and exercise, yet seeing random gains for no reason or pattern I can discern.

    It's been very frustrating as I feel I've been doing everything "right" and yet gaining 1-2 lbs a week for no reason. I want to get closer to 155 than 160, so if I weigh-in and have some random, BS gain I'm still not over 160.

    I thought I had it licked by eating more to offset my high-intensity workouts. This past week I returned to bootcamp and running after tweaking my back on Thanksgiving. I thought the worst was behind me, which is why it was a giant kick in the ovaries to step on the scale at Weight Watchers yesterday and be rewarded with a +2 lb gain over my November official weight.

    2 lbs. For real? I have never, ever gained 2 lbs between weigh-ins - and certainly did nothing to earn that. I ate on plan and exercise my ass off and, for what? To gain 2 lbs? Argh.

    WW rolled out its Points Plus 2012 program changes this week, the biggest being the fewest number of Points a person can consume a day dropped from 29 to 26. I had been eating 29, plus my Activity Points and some Weeklies.

    This week I think I'll try sticking to 26 to see if that shakes anything up. Plus, since I reinjured my back on Monday and am off high-itensity workouts for the short term, I won't be earning any Activity Points for a while.

    I left the meeting frustrated, but not upset. I worked hard 4 weeks for a good number and got hosed. But I knew I did absolutely everything I could. I left nothing on the table and I gave it my best effort. It wasn't good enough today and that's OK. I don't like it, sure, but I'm not going to cry over it or anything.

    So, where to now?

    Well, December is a hell of a month to try and drop pounds, but I want to try. I am launching Operation 5 Freakin' Pounds, which if you sing it in the style of "Fiiiiiiiiiiive Goooooooooooooold Riiiiiiiiiiiings" from "The 12 Days of Christmas", is kinda fun.

    I'm going to keep trying. But in the back of my head there is a voice. And it says, "This may be it. Your body may just want to stay where it is, whether you like it or not."

    I may have to accept that, but I'm going to give it a little more time first.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    In which I tweak my back

    Thanksgiving morning I was in a great mood.

    I had just returned home from a 5K, which I PR'd, thankyouverymuch.

    I was getting Thanksgiving dinner ready and excited to start the day. My son walked into the kitchen. He's so friggin cute, he came over and gave me a hug. So I picked up him, stayed standing straight and arms extended lifted his 40 lbs up and down a bit. He laughed, I put him down and went on my merry way.

    Then, about a half-hour later, I felt my lower back begin to protest. As the day went on, it got worse and I knew I absolutely tweaked it. Then it hit me, when I was lifting up my son, I didn't use or bend my legs. Guh, stupid.

    I first screwed up my lower back about 10-11 years ago. Nothing traumatic, but a combination of obesity and weak muscles led me to laying incapacitated on the living room couch in tears. Ever since, it's gone rogue 1-2 times a year, always after something embarrassingly innocuous, like getting off the couch, picking up a towel off the bathroom floor, etc.

    The last time I tweaked it was right before my birthday in September and I still have no idea what I did to cause that one.

    Ironically, in the dozens and dozens of hours of bootcamp and hundreds of miles of running I've done this year, I have never injured myself. And in bootcamp, there is some wacky shit going down. But our trainer is hyper-focused on form and always making sure we're doing things correctly.

    Which means, Paul, I basically need you to come move in and ensure I go about my daily life without physically being an idiot. Our couch is super-comfy, you'll love it.

    To recap, I don't get injured running, jumping, hopping or doing any number of crazy body-weight exercises, but I do hurt myself walking through a parking lot and picking up my son. Good to know.

    Anyway, once my lower back is tweaked, I'm screwed for 4-5 days. I iced it for 24 hours, then moved on to Icy Hot patches, hot showers, heating pads and 600 mg of Advil a day.

    I had to miss bootcamp the day after Thanksgiving and that pissed me off. But by Sunday, I felt things were progressing where I could work out a bit, so Sunday and Monday, I did 60 minutes each day on the elliptical. It felt OK, at least I knew I was doing any further damage.

    But I was still super stiff getting up in the morning and it hurt when I took a deep breath. Forget about sneezing or hiccuping - agony.

    It was still a bit balky on Tuesday, so my husband suggested I call the massage therapist, who worked me over that night and truly helped me out. She said I was all twisted up in my sacrum and the knots and trouble radiated all the way up my back, primarily on my right side.

    I woke up Wednesday morning feeling decent enough for bootcamp, so I went and did my best, modifying where I needed to. On Thursday, I felt good enough to run, so I went to the gym and did 30 minutes on the treadmill. My lower back was still a little stiff, but felt OK before, during and after running.

    Friday I went back to bootcamp again and had a good class, felt almost completely normal. Saturday was a rest day, thankfully, and Sunday I had my last 5K of the year.

    At this point, you may be wondering, "Why can't you just take the week off and not work out?" I'm at the point now where I honestly want to work out. If it's a workout day and I can work out, I want to. And if I don't, I am just not right all day.

    Being injured only makes me want to get healthy as soon as possible and get back to sweating. It's so weird. I used to hear people say things like, "If I don't work out, I'm off all day" and I'd think, Pffft, riiiight. But I get it now. I never, ever expected this, to suffer from this particular issue of loving exercise too much.

    The combination of feeling good after my Thursday treadmill run (which I know is not the same physically as running on pavement) and the general feeling of my back led me to the decision that yes, I could run that 5K Sunday. I made a deal with myself: If I feel poor during the race, I would walk.

    I got up Sunday morning and felt...normal. Normal! Yay! Race day!

    So I ran Sunday and ran fast. The course was flat, the weather was perfect. I was running fast and feeling excellent. No pain, all gain.

    I came home all happy and then...a few hours lower back was waving up at me with one finger. Aw, crap.

    I woke up this morning right back where I started from on Thanksgiving. Super stiff and in great discomfort. As in, can't lean or bend over to tie my toes discomfort.

    Complicating things is my official Weight Watchers Hey-This-One-Counts weigh-in is tomorrow. I worked 5 weeks to get that number and I'm not chucking it now by taking any ibuprofen, which causes me to retain water like a pool.

    Either you get this decision or you don't and I'm OK if you don't. You're either, like, "Yes, I would suffer for 24 hours, too" or "This woman should be committed."

    My husband, the voice of reason (and a person probably really sick of me smelling like a giant menthol cough drop) noted, "You really should go to the doctor."

    And he was right, while there's nothing to easily or really fix this issue, they can give me some awesome drugs that I can start enjoying after weigh-in tomorrow.

    I got an appointment with my nurse practitioner and she confirmed it is a back spasm, told me to lay-off high-intensity exercise until I felt better and wrote me a nifty prescription for Flexerol and big-ass Ibuprofen (the latter of which I will be bringing with me to my WW meeting and will pop as soon as I step off the scale).

    While talking to the NP, I noted the irony of getting hurt doing everyday junk yet not when working out very hard:

    "I thought being a healthy weight and greatly strengthening my body would prevent this sort of thing."

    "Not really," she said. "But you're strong and fit, so you'll recover faster."

    Strong and fit. A medical professional called me "strong and fit."

    I can assure you that has never happened, ever.

    This was a long, painful way to garnering a compliment, but I will take it and, after 10 am tomorrow, any drugs they give me.

    Race Report: The Stow Gobbler 5K

    Editor's Note: This post is a week overdue, but still worth posting.

    This was the most dangerous run I've ever encountered.

    Here I thought, What a fun way to spend Thanksgiving morning! and it became a Let's Just Not Get Hurt run.

    I always wanted to do a turkey trot, I thought it was amazing people got up on their day off, and came out in the cold to run a road race before starting their holiday.

    And crap, it was c-o-l-d. Thirty degrees at the start, a hat-and-gloves race for sure. I had running capris under my warm-up pants (which are now two sizes too big, attention, Santa...), but I was so cold I just decided to keep the pants on.

    I got a healthy dose of foreshadowing when I pulled into the parking lot, shut off the car and immediately watched a woman take a header. Black ice. Oh, frack.

    I am terrified of getting injured. Always have been and am even moreso once I did. Because hurt = no workouts.

    I got my stuff out of the car and gingerly headed to bib pickup, keeping an eye out for black ice. It had rained the night before and was literally freezing that morning, so the parking lot was slick.

    I soon spotted my domestic running life partner Sandy (pictured) who immediately said, "Did you see that woman fall?" We're on the same wavelength.

    As we made our way to the registration tent, the ice seemed contained to the parking lot, not the road, thank goodness.

    Feeling good coming off last week's race, I came into this one thinking perhaps I could PR it. I had no idea what the course was like, but when I hit 5K in last Sunday's 5-miler it was about 3 minutes faster than my previous 5K best. I figured it was a possibility.

    When it was time to line up, Sandy and I went mid-pack. It was a decent-sized field, about 800 runners, and we were jammed up on this little residential side street. Too many runners and not enough road. Never good.

    Then there was the makeup of the crowd: many families, which means lots of little kids. And that's great, don't get me wrong, but it's also dangerous because children run all over the place. Then we had strollers and walkers scattered intermittently through the crowd, too, also not awesome.

    I've tried to figure out how to write the next bit without sounding like a douche, but I feel it's impossible, so here goes:

    This race was full of people who don't race much, so their race etiquette was nonexistent. I'm not writing this because I'm a sip-your-tea-with-your-pinkie-up freak, but rather because it's dangerous. Race etiquette is really all about safety and knowing where the grown adults running quickly in front of and behind you are going to go/do so you don't trip, fall or injure them - or yourself - in any way.

    Race etiquette is pretty simple, it's just like driving: Slow/consistent-paced runners on the right in the travel lane, fast runners on the left in the passing lane. Walkers, strollers, etc. in the back. And, as always, look over both shoulders before you spit.

    So with a host of inexperienced racers, we had:

  • People in the wrong "lanes", running wherever. That's tough when you're used to being passed on the left and all of a sudden someone's jamming you up on the right. And, remember, most of us run with music, so we can't hear anyone coming up until they're right there. When you're not expecting someone on your right and all of a sudden, boom, here's an adult at your elbow, it's freaky and breaks your concentration, which was really at a premium in this race due to all the chaos.

  • Walkers where they didn't belong, namely front- and mid-pack. Walkers who quickly fell back and all of a sudden were strolling right in front of you, straddling both "lanes", like they were perusing the mall, forcing you to pull up and switch lanes quickly and hope there was a space to your left to get by.

  • Parents running with their children, getting several yards ahead of them and then just stopping dead in their tracks to look over their shoulder and find their kid. Here's my 2 cents: If you're going to run with your child (and it's something I hope to do someday) run with them. If you don't want to run that slow, don't race with them.

  • And, God bless them, kids darting here and there, running around wherever they felt like because, you know, they're kids.

    Between people running with no rhyme or reason, a course through narrow-streeted residential neighborhoods and a large crowd this race was freakin' scary.

    Then add in a patch or two of ice - which caused everyone to grind to a halt - and a random cut-through from one street to another via a wooded area, which featured wet leaves, exposed tree limbs and a decline and, shit, this thing was nuts.

    By the halfway point, I was transitioning from Let's PR this! to Let's cross the finish line uninjured.

    However, 2 miles in I knew I was still having a good race. The crowds had thinned out to different paces and the roads were a little wider, so I thought I could possibly still PR.

    By the time I hit Mile 3, I checked the Garmin and knew I would PR. Usually when I hit the Mile 3 marker I go into a sprint (or my version of it) for the last tenth to try and get over the line as quickly as I can.

    Even though I was relatively gassed and mentally taxed from all the thinking involved in not running into someone on this race, I decided to turn it up for the last tenth and see just how low I could make this new 5K time.

    I crossed the timing pad at the finish and hit Stop on my watch: 32:06. Not sub-30, but a big, fat 2 minutes faster than my previous 5K PR. Yay!

    And I didn't get injured. Double yay and something for which I should be thankful.
  • Saturday, December 3, 2011

    In which I get a cookie from Santa

    Last night we took the kids to ride the very-excellent Polar Express in nearby Rhode Island.

    While on the train, an equally-awesome Santa (seriously, the best I've ever seen) came around and gave each child a jingle bell from his sleigh and a cookie.

    Santa gave me a cookie, too. Well, I have been a very good girl this year.

    Normally, I don't eat cookies. I could, sure, but my Points are usually better spent on more substantial, healthy filling foods to keep me satisfied. And baked goods are traditionally a trigger food for me.

    However, one does not receive a cookie from Santa every day. And I love cookies. So I ate it.

    That's kinda the rule of thumb I use these days when it comes to a treat: Is this a special occasion? Could I have this at any other time?

    We took this trip last year, too, and I remember I did not eat the cookie Santa gave me. I was about 14 weeks into WW and I was adamant that I didn't not want to screw it up by having a cookie. One cookie. Ay yi yi.

    I still struggle with my Type-A perfectionism/all-or-nothing-ness when it comes to healthy eating. Years of failed "dieting" left me with the feeling of being "on" or "off" a diet. The thought: If you're trying to be healthy, you can't have a cookie.

    When, in actuality, you can have a cookie. Just don't have a dozen or add in a whole pizza and a weekend of poor eating, which is what I tended to do.

    But here's where I love Weight Watchers. It is so ridiculously flexible. Since I still had plenty of extra Weekly Points available, I certainly had enough for one - one - cookie.

    So I relaxed, took a deep breath and really enjoyed the cookie. It can be that simple if I just let it.

    Problem is, I have decades of bad mental conditioning behind me, but slowly I am working it out. I won't be able to shed it as efficiently as I have the extra weight, but I will overcome it. It will just take a while.

    I don't want to live a life in which I cannot enjoy one cookie from Santa.

    Digging through iPhoto, I found our pictures from our Polar Express trip last year and one of me and my son this year.

    December 2010

    December 2011

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    November '11: Home Weigh-In 4

    Well, this was interesting.

    Last week, I lost quite a bit, thank God. I was hoping to follow it up with a smaller loss, given I was still rocking the strategy that seemed to get me a big loss.

    Stepped on and saw 159.2, which means I stayed the same.

    Well, it's better than gaining, I guess.

    This weigh-in covered Thanksgiving, a much-feared holiday within many WW meeting rooms, but one I never sweated too much. I was hosting Thanksgiving, which means I controlled the menu and could ensure I had lots of veg on hand with which to fill myself up.

    I also had a plan going in. I knew how many Points I had on hand and what I wanted to eat that was special, namely a cup of my Dad's mashed potatoes, which are so sinful I can smell the butter coming off them from a mile away. But I only have them once a year and I had the Points. I'm not going through life never eating those mashed potatoes again, it's once a year.

    Thanksgiving is one day, one meal, really. And if you keep it to one meal, you can't do too much damage in the short run. Unless you have a weigh-in the next day and I don't know anyone brave enough to weigh in the day after Thanksgiving, but kudos if that's you. You're hardcore.

    I also ran a race that morning, so I had my Weeklies and a nice stash of Activity Points on which to draw.

    Was Thanksgiving the source of the maintain? Highly doubtful.

    However, after the race and before Thanksgiving dinner, I tweaked my lower back, which earned my an extra day off from exercise and a lost bootcamp class as well. Instead of working out 5 days this past week, I worked out 4. One bootcamp class, one 5K race and two 60-minute sessions on the elliptical. Was that the reason - less-intense exercise and one fewer day? Again, doubtful.

    At this point, I'm thinking I had a big loss last week and my body was taking a time out this week.

    That's OK, I have one more week before my December weigh-in at Weight Watchers. I would love to get down closer to 155 than 160. Let's see what I can pull out of my hat.

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    In which I get amazing perspective

    A couple of weeks ago I got a Facebook message from a friend, who also happens to be a marathoner:

    "Wanna run a marathon with me next year?"

    The particular race is in early May, so while it was very tempting, I told him I wanted to do a half first. I don't know if 26.2 is ever in my future, feel free to Told-Ya-So! me if next year you read: "I going to train for a marathon," I know Flo will, LOL.

    But right now I know a marathon isn't right for me. Turns out my friend may "just" - as he put it - run the half, so we may do it together. Seriously, that's pretty cool. I love running with friends.

    I've been thinking about it off and on since: How insane is it that I got that email in the first place? How did I get here, to a place in which running a half-marathon is a possibility, actually, a probability?

    It was almost a year ago that I thought about returning to running.

    I thought back to where I was this time last year. I was two months into Weight Watchers. I had just started exercising again the previous month (Leslie Sansone's excellent Walk Away The Pounds series), having waited to get the eating-within-my-Points thing back down before I added the burden of regular exercise.

    This week last year, I weighed in at 249.8 lbs, having lost 32 lbs since early September. I was on my way.

    If you asked me a year ago, the words, "half-marathon" would not have entered the conversation. 5K? Maybe. A half? Wow. I wonder if I even thought I would be at Goal at this point.

    It's amazing how much everything can change in a short period of time.

    Later the same day I got the marathon email from my friend, I was conversing with another friend online. She's just finished a round of chemo and will soon be entering another experimental treatment. She ran down the litany of things she'll have to endure during her next treatment: appointments, EKGs, biopsies, you name it. And that's in addition to all the shit the actual chemo brings. She termed them all "more of a nuisance than anything else."

    Seriously, "a nuisance."

    And here I am, regularly bitching about a few pounds.

    Then, if that wasn't all enough, later that week a close friend of another friend passed away of cancer at 41. 41? I am 41. Well, hell.

    When you're tied up in losing or maintaining your weight (or any personal endeavor, actually), it's really easy to become myopic. Lord knows it happens to me all the time. Most, if not everything, can get tied up or connected to how it affects whatever you're trying to do.

    Little problems can seem like big problems. Little aggravations or difficulties mushroom into a big deal when, in the long run, they're nothing.

    It's good and healthy to regularly step back and get some perspective on what you're dealing with and gauge it against others. God knows I need it.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    November '11: Home Weigh-In 3

    Man, was I heavily sweating this weigh-in.

    I had a plan: In addition to everything I was already doing, eat more, especially an extra carb on workout days, preferably before. So that's what I did.

    I stepped on the scale this morning and, thankfully, saw 159.2. Amen, brother. -3.6, phew.

    I was terribly concerned it would not work. If eating less and exercising didn't work, and eating more and exercising also didn't work, where would I turn?

    But it looks like this worked fine, so I'll follow what I did this past week again and see what happens. I have 2 weeks until my official December WW weigh-in and I would love to be closer to 155 than 160.

    In Weight Watchers-ese, here's what I did, if you're curious.

    In addition to following the plan to a T, I ate all my Activity Points on the day I earned them. On bootcamp days, I wore my heart-rate monitor, which divides the time spent exercising into three HR zones: low, medium and high.

    I took the time spent in each and calculated how many APs I earned. For example, bootcamp is usually 5 APs. Before bootcamp I ate a mini-bagel (3 P+) and a serving of WW cream cheese (2 P+). Voila, there's your 5 APs eaten.

    When I ran I didn't need the HRM, I just knew the entire run was spent in the high intensity zone, so I took my total run time and calculated the APs. I ate a bagel and cream cheese before my runs, and if I had leftover APs from the run (anywhere from 2-5), I'd toss them into the day's Point total and eat them as well.

    Along the way, I also ate 9 of my weeklies, not exactly sure when, but I did. Previously I would eat about half my APs and usually 0 weeklies, so the adjustment in this area seems to have been the trick.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Race Report: Slattery's Turkey Trot 5-Miler

    I was very excited for this race for two reasons:

    1. It was a 5-mile course, making it my longest race to date. After the mishegas over the Tufts 10K, I was excited to finally race a distance longer than 5K.

    2. I'd be running with friends. The race was in Fitchburg, Mass., certainly not a jewel in the Bay State's crown, but a city in which I and my friends all worked together over 10 years ago. It would be cool to be back in the area with them, all doing something fun together.

    We headed north and got to the race area, which featured two things I had never experienced before:

  • The chattiest race director alive. Seriously, this guy had a mic and would not shut up. Race directors usually cut in every 5-10 minutes to make announcements like, "10 minutes to the race" or "The port-a-potties are behind the soccer field," stuff like that. Then they shut up. This dude loved to hear himself talk (in his best Massachusetts accent, "Runnahs! Runnahs! Tha stahtin line is 200 yahds up tha road, not in frunnatha tent.") and, unfortunately for us, he had a plethora of powerful speakers. We tried to walk away to any place where we could hear less of him.

  • When chatterbox wasn't assaulting our ears with his ramblings, he played music. Now, pre-race music is usually sporting event, fast-BPM, psych-yourself-up music, like Black Eyed Peas. All this guy played, wait for it, was: The Scorpions Greatest Hits and one Billy Joel song. Which one? "Piano Man." Piano man? That kinda wanna makes me hang myself, not run a race.

    While we were trying to escape Mr. Microphone, I spied a runner with a fuel belt. I thought it was kind of odd. Five miles isn't that long, why would you need a fuel belt? Foreshadowing.

    Soon my friends and I lined up, finding our respective places in the pack and we were off. Now, I used to live in the neighborhood where the race started and I knew it was hilly, so I knew we'd be up and down. And we were, but that's OK because I know how to run hills and do it often enough they don't freak me out anymore.

    I wasn't worried about the hills, but I was a tad wary of the combination of them and the weather. It was 60 degrees when the race started, so I knew it would be warm.

    I used the "add 20 degrees to the race temp" rule of thumb to figure out how to dress. Earlier this week I thought for sure it would be a fleece-hat-and-gloves race, but go figure. I wore a short-sleeved tech T and my magic pants - I'm not running 5 hilly miles without them.

    I got to the Mile 1 marker and saw the clock, it had me running a 10-minute mile. Whoa. Very fast for me. I wasn't trying to run fast or keep up with anyone, I just tried to be comfortable and efficient and run my own race. Mile 2: 21 minutes. Wow, still steaming along.

    I felt good, but the sun was out, bearing down and I was hot. Surely a water stop will be coming up, right?

    Mile 3, had me at 32 minutes. If this was a 5K I'd be PRing it for sure. I felt good and thought I could register a very fast race. Going in I thought if I was really chugging I could get in at around 55 minutes. I didn't know the course well, but I knew there would be at least one more substantial hill because the race ends where it began - up a hill.

    I tried to conserve energy and run smoothly. Where the hell are the *@&364% water stops?

    When we hit Mile 4 I realized: There are no water stops. Seriously, this was the 31st running of this race. 5 miles and no water stops? Unreal. Especially on a warm day, running-wise.

    But, hell, I was almost done and hauling. I wanted to try to get in under 55 minutes. At 4.5 miles we all took a right and stared up at a nice, steep, 50-yard incline. I slowed down, kept my eyes at the top and employed my best hill-running techniques to chug up.

    It did help that we were very close to the finish, and the spectators were really encouraging when we really needed it. I got to the top of the hill, took a left and saw the clock (but not the time, too far away) and the chutes.

    I looked at my watch and read 51 minutes. Whoa. Time to sprint. I had enough left in the tank to really pick it up the final 50 yards. I spied my friend Jeremy, who had already finished, hollering from the sidelines: "You're doing great!"

    I crossed the spray-painted finish and hit Stop on the Garmin: 52:25 for a 10:33 pace. Wow. Not only my longest race, my fastest yet. Very, very cool.

    Seriously, just about a year ago I was getting the running bug again. I weighed in the 240s. Now I'm at goal and deciding which half-marathon to do next year. Unreal.

    Anyway, we weren't chipped, so we had to tear the strip off the bottom of our bibs and wait in the chutes to hand it over. Water! Where's the water?

    Back there, said the volunteer, pointing 25 yards in the opposite direction. I hit the water table, grabbed 6 16-oz bottles and started rehydrating.

    That's me and Sandy. I snagged this screencap off her Facebook wall. Look how many water bottles I had in my arms, and I think I had already had 3 by the time this picture was taken.

    I found my friends and we shared race stories, listened to more Scorpions and figured out where to go for a post-race beer and catch-up session. Then I started to get cold, like, teeth-chattering cold. My husband lent me his hoodie, so I felt a little better, but I was still crazy cold. I think I was either dehydrated or rehydrated incorrectly. I wasn't lightheaded or dizzy, just cold. It was weird.

    All-in-all a really fun afternoon. A great race and the opportunity to run with friends, which makes racing, an already fun event, even better. And I don't think I'll ever be able to hear "Rock You Like A Hurricane" again without laughing.
  • Food Of The Day: VitaSandwich Egg'N'Cheese Sandwich

    Flo tipped me off to these during our trip to Wegmans, which surprisingly doesn't carry them. I know, I'm surprised, too.

    Anyway, Stop & Shop and Target do (click here to see where they are in your area), so I grabbed a box of the Egg & Cheese and the Egg & Cheese with Veggies. I'm more partial to the former than the latter but, man, they are good.

    For just 3 Points Plus, it's a satisfying snack that really stays with you. If you're a fan of the Egg McMuffin, it's very similar and 5 fewer Points. I'm a big fan of Vitalicious and they sure don't disappoint with this offering.

    Here's what it looks like when you tuck into one and then remember, Oh, yeah, I wanted to get a picture of that. Enjoy my dental impression.

    Cooking is super easy: Microwave. There's even directions on how to easily do a microwave-toaster combo so it's crunchy. Yum.

    The only drawback is the price. A box runs $5 and you get two sandwiches. So it's a little pricey, but pretty great if you want to try something new and healthy.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Food Of The Day: Low-Point Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

    Holy crow.

    I was perusing my Twitter feed before bootcamp this morning and I saw a Cool Running tweet containing the words "pumpkin", "pie" and "smoothie."

    I could not click fast-enough. had concocted a healthier version of Jamba Juice's Pumpkin Smash Smoothie. The mod makes 2 16-oz servings, 4 Points+ a piece.

    I have yet to make a smoothie and save half for later, so I was looking at 8 Points+ as written.

    I figured I could goose that down.

    I used:

    1/2c canned pumpkin (0 Points)
    1 cup So Delicious coconut milk, unsweetened (1 Point)
    4 oz Plain Chobani (1.5 Points)
    1/2t pumpkin pie spice
    1.2t cinnamon
    Truvia (more than I want to admit to. Let's pretend it was one packet. Yeah, 1.)

    I tossed everything in the amazingly-ridiculous-seriously-ask-Santa-or-Hannukah-Harry-for-one Vitamix and vroooom, a ton of deliciousness.

    So crazy good. If you like pumpkin, that is. If you don't, then I guess it's gross, but all the more for me and other pumpkin-lovers out there.

    The only reason I used coconut milk is because A) It's low-Point and B) I had it in the fridge because I use it for my smoothies. If you used 1% milk, it's triple the Points per cup (3).

    Give it a whirl while there's plenty of canned pumpkin on the shelves.

    In which I eat a bagel

    After bootcamp Wednesday morning, my trainer turned to me and said, "Let's figure this out."

    We walked over to desk, sat down and tried to determine why I keep gaining weight when I'm trying to lose, despite heavy exercise and good eating.

    His theory, as I suspected: I'm not eating enough, specifically carbs.

    Since switching over to Points Plus, just about a year ago now, I've reduced my carb intake significantly (although not altogether) because carbs take up more Points than whole foods, protein, veg, etc. If you eat fewer carbs, you get to eat more. And I like to eat more.

    However, my trainer said because of my high activity level, fewer carbs means my body has less fuel to burn, so I'm accidentally putting my body into starvation mode. He suggested I add a small carb twice a week, preferably before I work out or, say, the night before a run.

    It's funny, last week someone mentioned having a great bagel and I thought, Wow, I could go for a bagel.

    I seriously have not eaten a bagel in over a year. A regular, large NY-style bagel would take up about one-third of my daily Points - and that's with nothing on it. I told you those damn carbs were expensive, WW-wise.

    Anyway, I grabbed a bag of mini Thomas' Pretza-Bagels: half-pretzel, half-bagel, all-delicious (3 Points+). I got some Weight Watchers cream cheese and for 5 Points+, voila, pretzel and bagel.

    I've been enjoying one before my workouts and they are a treat.

    If I get to eat a little more and actually lose like I want, that's the best of both worlds. It's worth a shot.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    In which I crave turkey

    The topic of today's Weight Watchers meeting was "The Great Thanksgiving Plate."

    Its purpose was to help members construct a game plan for enjoying the holiday and staying on plan. All it did for me was make me want turkey - immediately - because all we talked about was Thanksgiving food.

    I had to hit BJs anyway after the meeting, and I remembered they sell rotisserie turkey breasts. I picked one up, peeled off the skin, patted off any excess (delicious) skin and oil, and carved it up to enjoy this week.

    Above is a small delicata squash and 3.5 oz of turkey, 4 Points+. So good.

    November 11: Home Weigh-In 2

    So. Frustrated.

    +2 lbs today, which is a real kick in the ovaries since I am doing everything I can to lose a few more pounds.

    So, up 4 lbs over the past two weeks, and I'm still eating to lose, as well as maintaining my regular aggressive exercise schedule.

    What the hell?

    Seriously, I can't live the program any better than I am.

  • I work out at high intensity 5 days a week.

  • I drink 100+ oz of water a day.

  • I follow all of Weight Watchers' Good Health Guidelines.

  • I eat a variety of protein, fruit and vegetables and keep it low on carbs. I mix up my foods, I'm not eating the same thing over and over.

    The only thing I can think is I need to eat more. And that's a scary concept. Not that I wouldn't enjoy eating more, but common sense tells you, "Eat More = Gain Weight" and I've apparently got the market cornered on that ability, thank you.

    Currently I eat about half of my Activity Points and none of my extra Weeklies. I think I need to start eating more APs and maybe even dip into the Weeklies.

    When I ran into this problem last month (and, seriously, is this going to be a regular thing?) my trainer said he thought I wasn't eating enough and I needed to eat more carbs. Believe me, I'll be consulting with him tomorrow after bootcamp for his advice.

    'Cause what I'm doing isn't working.
  • Sunday, November 13, 2011

    In which I dangle off a building and other fitness feats

    It was 6:30 am Friday and I was gently swaying in mid-air 3 feet off the ground.

    My left leg was bent at the knee in an elastic stirrup. My right was hanging straight down. Both elbows were bent up, my arms tucked tight into my sides and my hands were gripping two large rings suspended from the ceiling.

    I was trying to execute a ring hold for as long as I could, keeping all 158 lbs of me up while gravity tried to take me down. My arms and, therefore, the rings, were starting to shake from fatigue about 30 seconds in.

    I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth trying to hold on, but my free leg starting poking around in the air behind me, looking for the safety of the tall plywood box off which we jump to start the exercise. Seeing my struggle, my trainer strolled over and calmly, quietly and seriously said:

    "Melissa, don't let go. You're dangling off the edge of a building."

    Seriously, how much fun is that? Very.

    I find the ring hold/pull-up exercises super hard. I remember the first time I tried one, I think it was back in May. I stepped off the box and immediately plummeted, I couldn't hold myself up, let alone pull myself up. But, Friday, progress: I completed 3 ring pull-ups and held the hold for longer than I've ever been able before.

    And that's why I love bootcamp. You get to try things you never thought you could do - and most likely things you never wanted to do. Sure, in the beginning you probably can't do them, but pretty soon it's a random Friday and you're pulling your body weight up and down in midair. Yay.

    The past three days have been very fun fitness-wise. Friday I had my Batman-like work on the rings.

    Yesterday I went to a demo class at bootcamp: Les Mills Body Combat, definitely the most demanding cardio class I've ever experienced.

    The class combined a series of mixed martial arts disciplines, so you're punching, kicking, blocking and jabbing for an hour. It was crazy fun and a great workout.

    At one point, the instructor yells, "Street fighter!" and we're pretending to hold someone down with one arm and rhythmically, repeatedly, punch them in the head with the other. Awesome.

    I was hauling for the whole thing, evidenced by my heart rate monitor, which told me I burned 450 calories in 53 minutes. And I learned how to seriously tune someone up with my elbows and knees. So, all said, time well spent.

    I was psyched that I'm in such shape that I can try out a very advanced cardio class and keep up quite well. And, bonus, I didn't accidentally kick anyone in the head. Or stroke out. Holla! However, I have a serious case of noodle arms today. I went to put on deodorant this morning and made a noise no adult should make.

    Today was a long run day, and I had the course simmering in my head all week. Much like The Grinch, I live atop Mount Crumpet, the two best ways to get to my house are via two major, very steep hills. I've driven the roads tens of thousands of times, and any time I saw anyone running up either I thought, "You go, runner."

    Then, when I started running I thought, "Hmmmm...."

    It took nearly a year of running for me to nut up to give it a whirl, and today was the day. I decided to run down one of the hills (Greenwood, for local folks), loop around and then back up the other major hill (Elmwood), ending at home for 5 miles total. The run went great and the closer I got to the uphill, the more I felt like a Who down in Whoville looking up.

    But, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, took it slow and easy, and pretty soon I was at the top, just a quarter-mile from home. But, crap, Miles 3.5-4.5 were straight up. Click to enlarge the horror:

    When I started running I was scared to death of hills. I would choose races via one criterion: Are there any hills? I would check the elevation charts and everything. Did. Not. Like. Them. Hills make running - already hard - even harder. But as annoying as they are, they do make you a better, stronger, more confident runner.

    I have a race next Sunday and I believe the course is kinda hilly, but I won't bother to check beforehand. I'm not worried. If I can conquer that one today, I'm set.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    In which I beat back the chocolate urge

    Earlier this week I wrote about having rather, ah, intense feelings about certain snacks as of late.

    Again, I find it somewhat odd that I could handle these foods on a daily basis with no problem for months. But, as of the past couple of weeks I found them calling me more and more. I didn't give in, but I knew I had to get out of Dodge if I wanted to be able to continue to state that.

    So when I ran out of them, I didn't restock. And, voila, having them out of the house has made all the difference.

    It sounds stupidly simple, but it works: If they are not in the house, I cannot eat them to excess.

    No temptations in the cabinet, no urges, no bad decisions. I'm liking this.

    I still have chocolate, for breakfast (LOL), and that's been fine. No untoward urges around my lovely LUNA bars, thank goodness.

    So far, so good. My tracker looks a lot less chocolately, I'm feeling a healthy distance and I'm eating a better variety of food (mostly fruit for snacks). Good stuff.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    November '11: Home Weigh-In 1

    Last week was a big week in two ways:

  • I lost 6.6 lbs, the most I've ever lost in one week.

  • I sailed under my personal weight goal.

    After months of weigh-ins, I know one thing: If you have a big loss, chances are you won't have a substantial loss the following week.

    For me, 6.6 lbs in one week represented 4% of my total body weight. That's a ridiculous one-week loss for this stage of the game, so I had low expectations heading into the basement Tuesday morning to weigh in.

    Turns out, I should have had even lower expectations. Despite the fact I was still in losing mode (as in, I didn't eat more to try and maintain my current weight), the scale had me up 2.4 lbs.

    I can just see it, my body saying, Wait, I gave up how much last week? No, that's crazy. I want some back.

    So even though I was still eating as if I was trying to lose weight, and exercising as hard as I always do, I was up 2.4 lbs. Thanks, scale, thanks a ton.

    However, I know this is just a case of my body swinging numbers around until we find a good one to settle on.

    Which is why I want to drop a few more pounds. Now, I can hear you, Are you insane? Surely, you've got a mental problem. Why do you want to lose more weight?

    I can explain: Don't have me committed just yet.

    160 lbs is the most I ever want to weigh. I know our weights bump can around up and down 2-3 lbs on any given week, even when we're going everything "right." I want to try and get to 155 as a baseline, so if my weight happens to fluctuate 2-3 lbs, I'm still under 160.

    My scale read 160.8 Tuesday morning and I did not like to see that 6. At all.

    So I want to lose another 3.8 lbs to get to 155 and then switch to maintenance mode to see how I can maintain in that neighborhood.

    It's less than 5 lbs, it's just a number, I know. It's not like I'm trying to drop another 10 to get into smaller clothes. I'm happy with how my body looks (for the most part...) and I'm happy with my clothing sizes. It's just that 158 is still too close to 160 for me to remain under 160 with all the weekly vagaries of water retention, menstrual cycle, etc.

    I want to peel these last 3.8 off this month, so I could truly start maintaining in December. That would be great. So there's my November goal, should keep me honest through the eating holiday approaching.
  • Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Recipe: Chicken Lettuce Wraps

    Nutritionist Joy Bauer shares many a good recipe.

    The last one I tried has become a favorite, filling, low-Point lunch.

    When her lighter version of Chicken Lettuce Wraps danced across my Twitter feed last week, I knew I had to try it. They're a favorite of mine - and my husband's - at PF Chang's.

    I gave it a whirl last night and they were wonderful. For Weight Watchers, it's 8 Points+ per serving, and each serving is generous and more than enough to fill you up. Prep and cooking time was pretty quick, too.

    I had mine in Boston Lettuce leaves, my husband opted for white rice. Brown rice would be a great option, too.

    My only suggestion is since I was cooking for just the two of us, I would halve the recipe. It left a lot of leftovers, which is great. Unless you're like me and the meal was so delicious it took a lot of willpower not to grab the leftover container and a fork and go to town.

    I didn't, but I thought about it...

    Anyway, give it a whirl, good stuff! You can check out Joy's Twitter feed here.

    In which I put myself in time-out

    Dear Fiber One Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies,

    It's not you, it's me.

    Seriously, you're too delicious and too low-Point, which make me want to break my self-imposed rule in which I will not have more than one serving of something (except for fruit & veg) in a day. If I have you in the morning (ahem), I can't have you again for the rest of the day. But I find myself wanting you more than once a day.

    OK, I'm abandoning this fake-letter bit as it's getting too porn-y and weird.

    Here's my problem, those brownies are too good. I've been having one a day for months, but lately I find myself wanting them more.

    I've been able to control the temptation so far, but I know if I keep them in the house, I will give in eventually. It's like gambling at a casino, gamble long enough and the house always wins.

    Curiously, I'm having the same issue with the equally-delicious Weight Watchers Whitman's candies. Again, been enjoying them daily for months, but lately they're too tempting to stop at one - or two. They are small.

    I think the problem is that they're both low Point (the brownies are 2, candies 1), so it's easier to justify having more than one a day. If they were higher-Point, I doubt I would have the same problem.

    Yesterday I ran out of both and did not restock. And I will not. I need a break from these foods and I'm happy I'm strong enough to recognize a potential problem and correct it before it becomes a big one.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    In which my daughter makes a list

    My Kindergartener came home from school yesterday, determined:

    "I need to make a checklist of things I need to do every morning!"

    I wasn't sure what prompted this fit of organization at nearly 6 years old, but I could not wait to read it. When she draws something, it's usually pretty funny.

    She marched off to the dining room table, paper and marker in hand and soon returned with the above, which I will translate:

  • Exercise.
  • Brush teeth.
  • Eat.
  • Clothes.
  • Catch the bus.

  • Exercise? That surprised me.

    "Why exercise?" I asked.

    "Because that's what you do in the morning."

    I almost teared up.

    "What are you going to do for exercise?"

    She demonstrated jumping jacks and those old-timey, arms out, bend at the waist, touch-the-opposite-toe thingies.

    "That's a good plan, Marley. Good for you."

    "I know."

    Nothing if not modest, my girl.

    One of the major reasons I wanted to get in shape was because I wanted to be around for my family. I wanted to be alive and active for me and, especially, for them. I wanted my children, especially my two girls, to grow up with a healthy relationship with their bodies, exercise and food.

    Both of my girls will be petite (my husband's side, not mine, for sure), which means they will have little room for error with extra weight. How could I help them grow up healthy inside and out if I was a 300-lb couch potato?

    I don't bang 'em over the head with my eating and exercise, but they are absorbing it by osmosis. They know I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and they're right there with me, with the fruit-eating, at least. Sure, they eat the typical kid crap, but they're kids - I won't deprive them of that, as long as it's in moderation.

    I never predicted how my changes would affect them and their attitudes about eating and exercise. They know I go to Weight Watchers every week for what I call my "healthy meeting." In the summer, they come with. My son calls it, "Boring, boring, boring." Can't argue that when you're a 4-year-old boy.

    I'm amazed to see how all of my work is paying off for them in their little brains, percolating under the surface and bubbling up in unexpected ways.

    So, I give my eldest all the credit in the world for her list, because if I had one, "eat" is always No. 1.

    Food Of The Day: Delicata Squash

    First things first, I have to get this out of the way and I apologize in advance:

    Every time I say or hear "delicata" in my head, all I can think of is Ann Wilson of Heart singing, "Ooooooohh, dell-i-CAH-ta!"

    Sorry to put that earworm in your head.

    Now, onto tasty food.

    If squash had their own language - and I'm not convinced they don't - "delicata" no doubt is squash for "delicious."

    As you know, I love squash, and this fall I've had fun trying new-to-me varieties.

    I remember last fall several weight-loss bloggers I read mentioned delicata squash, but I could never find it. I made a point of looking for it on my recent adventure to Wegmans, and of course, they had it.

    I Googled delicata online and discovered how to roast it:

    Slice off the ends.

    Slice it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

    Slice the halves into half-inch sections.

    Roast at 375 for 30 or so minutes.

    Eat - with skin on.

    The whole skin-on thing threw me a bit, but wow, those suckers are yummy. I sprayed them with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, kosher salt and pepper, and they are to die for.

    In my local stores, delicata tends to be a little tough to find, so keep an eye out. It's worth it.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Photos: Befores, Durings and Afters

    Yesterday I posted one of my favorite pictures ever, and it got me thinking about the photos I usually get at each race.

    Then I remembered I did get a photo of myself before my first 5K in March. I traditionally use my regular Before photo when comparing Befores and Afters, so I thought, "Let's contrast with a During photo." (Click to enlarge.)

    At the time of the March photo I weighed 212 lbs. It was one week before I started my introductory bootcamp classes and 2 weeks before I started going twice a week.

    At this point, I had already lost 70 lbs from when I joined Weight Watchers 6 months earlier. The first thing I think when I look at that photo: "Wow, that doesn't look like someone who already lost 70 lbs."

    In the current photo I weigh 158 lbs, so in the seven months of running three times a week and bootcamping twice a week (and Weight Watchers-ing) I've lost 54 lbs. It sure seems like a lot more pound-wise than that comparing the two photos.

    And that, my friends, is why strength and interval training is very, very good.

    I know I could reach my current weight without bootcamp, but I'm convinced it would have taken much longer. And when I got to this weight, my body would not look like it does now. Running would have taken care of my legs, but that's moot because I doubt I would have been able to continue running: My core and legs were not strong enough to sustain it without pain.

    In that first 5K I wrote about suffering from what I thought was major hip pain when running outside, but I think it was more of a glute thing. Bottom line: My core and legs were not sufficiently strong enough to allow me to run pain-free.

    Gradually, safely, strengthening them through bootcamp allowed me to run faster, further and better - pain-free. I would have been forced to bail on running long before now without bootcamp. It was just too painful to run outside.

    Now bootcamp may not be your thing and that's perfectly fine. You may not be interested in running and that's fine, too (and probably very smart when you get down to it). However, there are many other ways to get in your cardio and strength train so you can firm up and build lean muscle that will slim you down in ways you never imagined.

    Many of us eschew strength training because it's hard. I always say, "If bootcamp were a DVD, I'd fast-forward through 75% of it." It was true when I started and it's true now.

    It's challenging, and I am inherently lazy and I cannot self-motivate to push myself to do what I need to do when it comes to strength training. I can get myself out of bed, in the dark and on the road to run three times a week, no problem. But getting myself - with no one watching - to pick up some free weights or drop a dozen squats? Not me.

    That's why I turn to a professional twice a week. Someone who lays out a challenging circuit, ensures I have proper form and keeps me honest, so I don't, say, hook my feet under a spin bike for extra leverage during full sit-ups. Um, theoretically, that is.

    Anyway, do something you like and more importantly something that challenges you when it comes to cardio and strength training. Don't forget about strength training, it's hard but it is worth it. Believe me.

    And, I didn't live in the gym, either. Bootcamp is 45 minutes tops (including warm-up and cool-down) twice a week. My runs are, depending on distance, 30 minutes to an hour, three times a week. Five hours a week. That's doable.

    This is embarrassing to admit, but I held off on strength training for longer than I should have because I was worried that in building muscle, my weight loss would slow. It obviously did not.

    And, just for fun, I tossed in my regular Before photo below for the panoramic perspective. If you want a better look, click to enlarge.

    Not to belabor the "Oh my God I Love That Photo" theme I've got going on, but one more thought: I think what I love the most is I look strong and fit. Not "skinny" or "thin." I always thought I wanted to be thin and/or skinny. I was wrong. I wanted to look exactly like I do now: healthy.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    In which I love my magic pants

    In September, I blogged about my longest run to date and mentioned wearing my "magic pants."

    I promised to give them their own post and here it is.

    When I started the Couch To 5K program last December, I remember Day 1 vividly.

    I knew it would be hard to run for 60 seconds. I knew I would be breathing very heavily and "running" awkwardly, but what I didn't expect was all the jiggling south of the border.

    When I started C25K I weighed 236 lbs, so it should not have been a surprise. Ever been in a car that needed an alignment, and the faster it went the more it violently shook and rattled? That's what my butt, stomach and thighs felt like. It was very disconcerting.

    I was wearing capri workout pants from Target, which are great, but weren't tight enough (or at all) to contain my flab. Several of the runners/weight-loss superheroes I read all mentioned wearing compression pants when they ran, especially long distances.

    I figured I needed some to control the jiggling, but they don't make compression pants in plus sizes, probably because most plus-size people are not in the market for running tights.

    However, attention running gear manufacturers: Get in this market - a lot of plus-size people are new runners and could use the support, literally. You're missing an opportunity.

    So it was a big deal to me when I was small enough to fit into a pair of real compression pants. All my clothing life I avoided tight clothes like the plague, but now - go figure - that's exactly what I wanted - a pair of tight, form-fitting pants.

    I ordered these in June from Road Runner Sports (I highly recommend) and they were as advertised - very tight, but not my-legs-are-turning-blue tight.

    Compression tights are supposed to give you extra muscle support and speed recovery time after your run, with the added bonus of keeping your flab in check. If you have flab, that is, and I do - still. Always will, I suppose, and I'm OK with that.

    I only sport these when I'm running longer distances, which for me is 5 miles and up. Under 5, I don't feel like my legs will be taxed as heavily, so I go with this or this. Both great, both jiggle-proof, but not as heavy duty as the CW-X.

    Those crazy pants even came with instructions on how to wear them. They're tights, how could you screw that up? Well, it's important you wear them correctly, to be specific, a certain part of the leg needs to be over your knee. Go figure.

    Anyway, I call the CW-Xs my "magic pants" because they work magic on my lower half. I look lean and mean, when I assure you, sans clothes those legs are anything but magical. I will never, ever run in anything shorter than capris. I'm not comfortable with how my bare legs looks standing still, not to mention lifting off the ground over and over.

    If I had the coin I would own several pair of $80 compression tights and I would wear them every day. I'd be "that woman who always wears those tights" and I don't think I'd care because I would look damn fine doing so.

    A quick aside, the picture above may be my most favorite picture ever. I love it, and you know I stlll don't like many pictures of myself.

    In which I am constantly cold

    There is a downside to losing 100+ lbs - I am cold all the time.

    This is unfortunate because I live in Massachusetts, where it is cold most of the time.

    When I was overweight, I was always overheating: hot, sweaty, uncomfortable.

    Now I'm constantly in need of another layer - and a nap, while we're at it. So perpetually sleepy and freezing, me in a nutshell.

    I just changed out of my running clothes into outside yardwork-attire. So, that's, no lie, four shirts: long-sleeve long underwear top, long-sleeve cotton top, another larger long-sleeve cotton top, sweatshirt. And I will add a vest when we go outside.

    Below the equator: long underwear pants and jeans. I feel like the Michelin Man. It's, like, 50 degrees out and windy, but it seems much colder than that to me.

    It's a nice problem to have, don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back to being hot and fat, but it's not something I expected or predicted as an After.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    In which I have no ass

    A couple of days ago my friends Lynne and Jade were sitting in my kitchen.

    They come over to visit almost every afternoon and it's a favorite part of my day, I love them both to bits.

    So they're yakking around the kitchen island and I walk into the adjoining dining room to grab something off the table. I bend over the table to get whatever it is I was looking for (you'll see why I forgot in a sec), when Lynne stops whatever she was saying and shouts as if my hair was on fire:

    "Melissa, you have no ass!"


    "Your butt, seriously, it is gone. You. Have. No. Butt. And your hips, you have no hips! Jade, look at her hips! They're gone. WHERE ARE YOUR HIPS?"

    These are conversations I never thought I would have. Actually, "conversation" is probably the wrong word, as I stood there, half-confused, half-flattered, as Lynne rambled on enthusiastically about my body.

    Now Lynne sees me every day, so I'm not sure why it hit her that my rear no longer needed its own zip code, but it was nice. Although odd. But nice.

    I got my hair cut today and as I was paying, the salon receptionist (who I know in a "Hi-Bye-Next Appointment" way, not a familial "Where's your ass?" way) said, "Are you still working out?"

    "Yes," I answered, a little surprised as I don't recall ever discussing weight-loss or fitness with her.

    "I can tell. You look awesome. I'm starting with a personal trainer next week. Because of you."

    Again, wow. Another amazing thing about the weight-loss process. When you have some success, you never know who you may influence - all without any idea you're doing so.

    People watch you. They notice you're losing weight, but may not say anything. And then all of a sudden they approach you and thank you for something you had no idea you were doing.

    Very humbling.

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    In which I lose my Wegmans virginity

    Two weeks ago, a Wegmans opened about 25 minutes from here.

    This is A. Big. Deal. if you are a Wegmans devotee living in New England, where there were no stores until last month. I have a few New York-transplant friends who were over the moon at the news.

    I asked one if it was really that great and she looked at me as if I asked her if she really loved her kids. Actually, she may love Wegmans more...

    The hype was as enormous as the store, physically the largest grocery store in New England. It drew something ridiculous like 20,000 customers on opening day, so I waited until the furor died down before making my inaugural visit.

    I planned to meet Flo (center) and Becca (right) for lunch because the store also has a 300-seat food court, and when we meet, we eat. I got there early and tooled around the Produce Aisle looking for delicata squash, which is hard to find in the stores I frequent. They had it. Go Wegmans.

    I headed for the Nutritional Bar aisle to find my precious, of which my regular store was out. Not only did they have cases, they also sold them in cases. GO WEGMANS! The arrows indicate where the two cases I bought were. They had four cases of these suckers on the shelf. Woo!

    The store's greatest strength is its selection. It seemed to have everything. And while I can't envision driving 25 minutes to do my regular shopping, I can see visiting 1-2 times a month to pick up stuff I can only find there.

    Flo, Becca and I enjoyed lunch (avocado maki for me, made to order, yay), and then after they walked me AA-sponsor-style through the Bakery, which is the second-most Food Porniest place on Earth, right behind Whole Foods Bakery, aka, Valhalla.

    Whenever we get together we like to take a picture, so of course we opted for the last place on Earth we should be, as you can see above. Look, but don't touch, girls.

    Surprisingly (or not) no one thought it was odd we were standing in the Bakery, fondling cakes and getting our picture taken.

    In which I give hope

    I was at my daughter's school function last night and I ran into a mom I knew through various playgroups.

    She spotted me across the cafeteria, looked once, looked again and asked, unsure: "Melissa?"

    "Hi!" I called back.

    "OH MY GOD! Look at you!"

    Not to sound like a complete egomaniac, but I get that a lot these days. And it's wonderful.

    Anyway, I hadn't seen this woman since the spring and she was so very complimentary.

    "What did you do?"

    "Weight Watchers and exercise."

    "That's it? Really?" (Quick aside, I always wonder what answer people are expecting when they ask this. I suspect it's "weight-loss surgery.")



    She had done WW in the past and asked me some questions about the current program and talked about wanting to get back in shape. I'm not a nutritionist or a trainer, but I am happy to share what works for me. I never want to feel like I'm pushing anything on anyone, but if there's a question I am happy to answer and encourage because if I can do it, seriously, anyone can.

    We talked for about 10 minutes, in between wrangling kids, and as the program was about to start, we turned to part ways and sit down.

    She looked at me, smiled, and said, quietly, "You give me hope."

    Seriously, I could have cried.

    People have been so very generous in their support, encouragement, praise and compliments. I've been called an "inspiration," and anytime anyone says anything like that it's very, very humbling.

    But no one has ever said, "You give me hope." It just rocked me to the core.

    I don't think I'm awesome because of what I've done. Yes, it's a great accomplishment that took - and takes - daily effort and discipline, but I don't think I'm better than anyone else.

    Seriously, anyone - everyone - can do this. You just have it want it and do what you need to do, which when you get down with it are just consistent changes and decisions every day. You don't have to live in the gym, go on a reality show or eat food you don't like.

    I despise braggarts and just because I'm now in shape doesn't give me license to become one. I don't have it all figured out, and maintaining my loss will never, ever be easy for me. Easier? Hopefully. Easy? No way.

    For me, maintaining my humility through this is as important as controlled, planned eating and exercise.

    If my example proves anything it is, again, that anyone can do this if they want it. I can't emphasize this enough.

    To be an inspiration or source of hope for any person is a humbling, amazing experience and an unexpected, astounding benefit to getting healthy.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    In which I step (ball-change) outside my comfort zone

    It all started rather innocently, months ago, after my daughter's dance recital.

    One of the numbers was two-dozen adult women performing a tap routine during the show.

    "You should totally do that," my husband urged.

    "Do what?"

    "Tap! Adult tap!"

    I thought about it. A few good friends and I have daughters who all dance together, therefore we spend hours together over the course of the 9-month dance year sitting in waiting-room Purgatory making each other laugh and commiserating over the insane, smaller versions of ourselves. They're the only thing that make that useless time bearable, funny and sane.

    I love those crazy broads, so the idea of spending an hour a week with them - without our children - doing something relatively active and fun was too good to pass up.

    After rounds of, "Well, I will if you will..." we all signed on the dotted line and found ourselves in the studio with shoes that make snappy sounds on the wood floor.

    I took one year of dance. At age 5. I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but I vividly remember two things from 36 years ago:

    1. The teacher had us lie on the floor on our stomachs and then tilt our heads back and our legs forward, trying to get them to touch. I could not. I was not pleased.

    2. I ordered my parents to not sit in the front row at the recital. So you know exactly where they were. I may nor may not have stopped in the middle of "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear Turn Around" and bitched at them for breaking my very specific edict.

    My dance career ended shortly thereafter.

    However, I thought perhaps age 41 was a good time to make up for missed opportunities.

    See, I am a musical theatre nerd of the highest order. I have a 700-song playlist on my Nano called "Curtain Up" - and those are just my favorite songs. The playlist contains no fewer than four cast recordings of "Gypsy", and a few measures into any song I can tell you which production it was from. Nerd. City.

    I adore musicals and have ever since I saw the first national touring production of "Annie" at The Shubert Theatre in Boston in 1978. Ever since I heard the first five notes of the "Annie" overture (one of my favorites, see - who has a favorite overture?), I was absolutely hooked for life to the stage, but only as an audience member, never a performer.

    Fat kid, remember? No courage to walk across the gym, forget about a stage.

    So tap, which I admired in productions for years, seemed like something fun and new, and something definitely outside my comfort zone, and that's where the real growth starts.

    After 9 weeks of tap class I have learned one thing:

    Tap is friggin' hard.

    Not that I thought it was easy, but I thought I would be a little better at it.

    Here's the thing: You learn one step. Then they speed it up and it gets harder. Then they have you actually travel doing whatever you learned. Then they have you do it in the other direction. And then they add something else, making it a "combination," which is dance-speak for "Oh, yeah, here's something new and don't forget what we just taught you. Oh, and head to the left. Your other left."

    Other things I have learned:

  • It's a good workout. As in, wear a sports bra and comfy pants. We sweat a lot. A lot. I know why dancers and thin and muscular.

  • It's a ridiculous core workout. With all the balancing, weight shifting, hopping and tapping, your core is working hard. From months of bootcamp, I thought I had decent core strength. Not so sure now.

  • My balance isn't as good as I thought. Again, there's a fair amount of balance work in bootcamp, so I thought I would be better. But I routinely find myself on one leg, flamingo-style, teetering off-balance in the wrong direction.

  • I am not light - or quick - on my feet. I am a runner. I am a bootcamper. I'm in pretty good shape. But damn if I can move my toes, heels and legs as quick as I need to in some combos, which makes my tapping sound not rhythmic, but more like a jar of change being dumped down a flight of stairs.

  • I am not as coordinated as I thought. I played clarinet (rather well, thank you) from age 8 through college. I was in marching band from high school through college. I could march and play music - from memory - at the same time. But dance in time? Not quite yet.

    My husband and friends think I'm being too hard on myself, but I really do stink. I am a first-born female. This kind of self-induced pressure comes with the birth order. Can't help it, believe me, I wish I could sometimes.

    I mean, I can run mile after mile. I can race. I can do all sorts of cool shit in bootcamp. So give me a 10K any day over a combo that has me quickly transition from a Buffalo into a Maxie Ford.

    However, I shall press on. It is actually fun. And my friends and I laugh a lot. And, best of all, this is an endeavor I would never have attempted a year ago. I would have been self-conscious about my appearance and would have missed out on all this fun.

    But now, pounds lost and confidence gained, it's a brave new world of trying new things and humility. And the Time Step.
  • Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    In which force majeure doesn't force me off program

    It was back to normal this morning:

    5 am alarm. 6 am bootcamp. And I loved it.

    It's weird to type a sentence like that, still hard to believe this is something I enjoy and miss, but I do.

    I really missed working up a good sweat.

    Due to last weekend's power outage/freak snowstorm, I had gone 4 days without a workout. Four days! With no school, no power, no sitter, that meant no gym, understandably.

    But I didn't freak out. I tamped down my Type-A all-or-nothingness and chilled out. Previously, I would have been susceptible to "Well, if I can't work out, why bother watching what I eat? I'll just get back on track when everything's back to normal."

    Pretty sure you can guess how that usually worked out.

    But this time, it was different. I went into this rudderless experience with the philosophy, "I will do my best and only worry about what I can control."

    That meant not feeling guilty about a missed workout, the 5K for which I had registered and couldn't run or the fact the coming days would not go as planned. The coming days that, mind you, were coming right before my holiest of holy days: monthly official WW weigh-in.

    The storm rolled in quickly on Saturday. My son and I were at an afternoon birthday party and when it was time to go home, I made a quick stop at a grocery store on the way for some essentials - which you see in the pic above. That's my storm-panic shopping: buttercup squash, bagged salad, Pepperidge Farm sandwich thins, sixer of Diet Coke and green grapes.

    There's a snowstorm coming. In October. So, you know, make sure you have enough squash on hand.

    We were in the store for 10 minutes and when we got out, the roads were much worse than I anticipated. They were so bad we couldn't make it up any of the three hilly roads leading home; I tried for 45 minutes, but it kept getting more and more dangerous with slippery roads and snapping tree limbs and power lines. I appeared on my friend's doorstep with my son, a bag of grapes and the six-pack of Diet Coke, requesting shelter for the evening.

    The next morning, we made it home and reunited with my husband and our two girls, but we were still without power. We headed over to my brother's home on the coast, where it was appropriately fall-like instead of Ice Station Zebra.

    The kids played, the guys relaxed and my sister-in-law and I went off to Trader Joe's to get food. I was so happy and so lucky I could pick out a favorite meal from TJs amidst all the chaos (this and brown rice, if you were curious).

    We ended up staying over at my brother's Sunday night because we still did not have power and school had already been cancelled. There was plenty of food that could have called to me: pizza, cupcakes, snacks and other goodies in abundance in the house. And they did. And I thought about it.

    I find my Weight Watchers experience revolves around control, planning and routine. During this past few days, I had none of that. And while it was tempting to just eat whatever I felt like to feel better (that's what you do during a storm, right?) I knew that giving into temptation would only make a stressful situation worse - especially when the power would come back on, but my frustration at myself for giving in would linger.

    So I hung in, hung on and made smart on-plan choices. A successful Operation 5.1 was still a possibility. After putting in 28 days of hard work, I wanted to hang in and not quit in the last few days. And I'm glad I did.

    It wasn't natural. It wasn't easy, but it was real, solid progress.

    Now everything's back to normal, the kids are back in school and I can be proud of having thrived - on program, without a net - through a sticky few days, instead of wondering what could have happened had I toughed it out.