Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In which it's a tale of two Mays

Good grief, I love Before and After pictures.

Others' B&As were - and still are - incredibly moving to me. When I was losing, I would see others' photos and think, Wow, I really could do this, too.

I was at a Weight Watchers training recently and many Lifetime members were in attendance. They all brought their B&As (we love to) and when I looked at them - to a person - I would not have believed any of them were ever overweight at any time.

I just kept staring, stunned, at their Befores and them in the flesh, saying, "Really? This was you?"

I recently realized May 1 was the 2-year-anniversary of my infamous (at least to me) Before photo.

I didn't join Weight Watchers until Sept. 10, 2010, a little more than 4 months after the picture on the left was taken. I decided to enjoy the summer as a last eating hurrah, so I can ensure you that I was not any smaller in early September.

The me on the left is smiling, thinking, "Let's get this picture and get me inside because it's hot and humid and this 3X blouse is tight."

The me on the right is smirking, thinking, "I AM KICK ASS!"

I swear, I lost 125 lbs of fat and gained 125 lbs of ego.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In which I see something incredibly wonderful

So, after crossing the finish line Sunday I triumphantly grabbed my medal, then two bottles of water. I then headed straight for the water table and snagged another two bottles.

Then I availed myself of a piece of pizza. Holy gahd, it was wonderful. I soon availed myself of three more. Hey, I just ran for 2:46, you're lucky I didn't grab the entire box.

Anyway, very full of pizza, water and downright pride, I found a shady patch of grass on the other side of the start/finish line to do my cool-down stretches and apologize to my quads.

After stretching out, I sat up and watched the 5K portion of the running festival start. I relaxed and watched the runners stream over the starting line to the amusing strains of The Lone Ranger Theme Song.

Then, the second-coolest thing of the day caught my eye. No. 1 was seeing my medal in a volunteer's hand just beyond the finish line. No. 2 was a runner, a woman who very much resembled me size-wise in my Before photo.

There she was, running with the crowd and heading out confidently for a 5K. I caught myself smiling and thought, "You go, runner! You go!"

Before I considered myself a runner, I deemed runners an elite fraternity of fast, toned cool-kid types (think John Hughes '80s movie villains) who looked good in tight clothes, did impressive things like race and looked down upon us non-runnerly types, especially if we were overweight.

I could not have been more wrong.

One of the best surprises about the running community is how supportive and diverse it is.

Go to a race and you'll see runners of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. You'll see bikini-model types who you will pass and older folks who will leave you in the dust. I've learned never to judge runners by their appearance because it may well belie their abilities (a decent rule for life in general, as well).

Never go to a race feeling you won't fit in because as long as you have a number safety-pinned to your chest, you do, welcome aboard. End of story.

The running community is also incredibly supportive. Last fall, when the thought of training for a half-marathon first entered my head, I had met some runners at a race (friends of a friend) and mentioned the idea in passing.

They had just met me and they all said the same thing: "You can do it! Go for it. You'll do great."

Now, I had just met these people, they didn't know me from a hole in the wall, but immediately and sincerely were giving me encouragement I needed.

I've talked to friends who run and bounced countless injury and training questions off them. They've been incredibly generous with their advice and support. When I first developed my neuroma (but before it was diagnosed), I called my dog's vet (also a veteran marathoner) for advice.

That was a fun message to leave: "Hi, Marianne. It's Melissa. Umm, Scully's fine, but my foot is bothering me and I have a question, would you give me a call back?"

She called right back.

Runners love three things: gadgets/gear, flat courses and other runners. We are a crazy breed and I'm convinced we love other runners because it's proof we're not the only insane people we know.

I get so excited when friends become new runners. It may be for them or it may not. But I love that they try.

And it doesn't have to be running, it can be anything new. I love seeing people tentatively step foot outside their comfort zone. It's scary, for sure, but the potential for amazing growth, excitement and opportunity are limitless.

As I watched that woman strike off into the course I was so happy for her. A complete stranger, but I saw myself in her in just those few seconds I watched her pass.

I flashed back to a year ago, at the beginning of my running life and a very brave, exciting new world that has gifted me with much more than I ever expected of it or myself.

You go, runner.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In which I am a half-marathoner

This is a long post, so make sure you're properly hydrated...

I look pretty damn happy, but to be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to end up with a smile on my face and a medal on my chest.

I was supposed to run my first half-marathon on May 6 with my domestic runner life partner, Sandy. But the training led me to develop a neuroma under the ball of my right foot. I visited an orthopedist in April and got a cortisone shot, but I had to take a week off from running in prime training time.

Thanks to my back injury of late 2011, my training plan was already razor-thin. I couldn't afford to miss a week and even the cortisone shot was not helping entirely. I made the tough call to bow out for fear it would lead to further knee trouble. See, my right knee was starting to compensate for the neuroma and I was having knee pain while running longer distances - something that had never happened before.

I didn't want a pyhrric victory: Finishing the half at the expense of seriously injuring my knee.

So while I closed that door, thus opened a window. I happened to luck into a free entry into the Blackstone Valley Cherry Tree Running Festival. They had a half. If I registered and didn't think I could do it come race day, it's not like I would be out any money.

Cut to yesterday, race day eve, time to make the call. How did I feel? I went to the chiropractor Thursday for an adjustment, so my back was as good as it was going to get. In terms of aches and pains, my back is currently the least of my worries.

I'd been running three times a week with the neuroma and it was doable, it only bothered me when I ran. It still was annoying and occasionally painful, but I noticed it on longer runs (5+ miles) it would flare up and then subside.

So back-OK, neuroma-OK. A new concern was my hamstrings. The last couple of 8+ runs they had, from nowhere, tightened up quite a bit. On a 10-miler in late April, they were really tough for the last two miles. But I knew a run-walk schedule would loosen them during the race if they got bad. OK, there.

But yesterday, I was most worried about my knees. Both were achey, and yesterday was a rest day. I had bootcamp the day before, and while there was a lot of hopping and jumping, I didn't think they should feel like they did. I ran last on Thursday, but it was just 2 slow miles, that shouldn't have angered them.

What to do? The one thing I really worry about are my knees. Screw your knees up and you're out of running - if not all exercise - for a goodly amount of time. And I need exercise for my mental health and weight maintenance.

While my knees were achey, they'd hadn't been acting up on runs, so perhaps it was the bootcamping on Friday. Let's give this a go.

I packed as if I were going away for weeks, so much junk:

  • SPIbelt filled with a baggie of Uncle Sam cereal for mid-race carbs.

  • Salt packets in case I started cramping (it was going to be hot).

  • Nano & Garmin charging, headphones in run bag.

  • Sweaty Band. Made a big decision: no baseball cap. Again, it was going to be hot.

  • Change of clothes and flip flops for post race cool-down.

  • Bowl of Uncle Sam cereal & chia seeds to carb-up when I arrive (about an hour before the start time).

  • Small container of almond milk to pour in the above.

  • Water to drink on the way down.

  • Prescription-strength ibuprofen. I decided to pop 600mg before the race to help with the whole knee thing. I brought along another just in case things got hairy mid-race.

  • Arctic Ease wraps (stored in my daughter's old Hello Kitty lunch box with blue ice) to wrap and ice my knees as I drove home.

  • Seriously, what a load of crap. Soldiers go to war with less. But it was all necessary. I set up alarm for 5 am and hit the hay.

    Woke up at 5 am, ate a NuGo bar (my absolute favorite) and a Diet Coke, then set about getting dressed. I went with a Road Runner short-sleeve white wicking shirt (again, hot), a new pair of Thorlos (which I always run in) and a new pair of 2XU compression tights. I debated compression shorts vs full tights and decided I needed all the help I could get. Plus, the 2XUs are crazy light, so it's not like I would be super hot in them.

    And away we go. It was a gorgeous late spring morning. Sunny, blue skies. I found my way down to the race with relative ease, headed over to registration, picked up my bib and returned to the car to eat my Uncle Sam, pop my ibuprofen and toss up a final status update on Facebook in case I met my demise on the course.

    At 7:30 am, I headed over to the port-a-potties for a pitstop (and a nod to Sandy, queen of the pre-race port-a-potties) before warming up and lining up. After stretching and light cardio warmups, I headed for the 12-minute-milers portion of the pack, cued up and paused my playlist, and waited for the National Anthem.

    I put my hand over my heart for the Anthem. I could feel my heart beating like crazy. I was nervous, and I hadn't been nervous for a race in a long time.

    Anthem over, the mayor of Pawtucket gave the "Runners at your marks" cue (or, "Runnahs at ya mahks"), then hit the air horn.

    I passed over the timing pads, hit start on the Garmin and shuffle on my playlist. Here we go.

    The race was relatively small, maybe several hundred runners. Initially this gave me pause as I worried, "What if I was the last runner to finish?" To which I would answer, "You finished!"

    In the first couple of miles I admonished myself to go slow and run my own race, and I took stock of my fellow pacers. I quickly categorized who's who by what they were wearing/doing. There's Compression Socks Guy. There's Weird Stride Woman. There's Guy Running In A Skirt (yeah, you read that right). There's Old Lady I Absolutely Cannot Finish Behind.

    The first two miles I went out relatively fast, for me: 11-minute miles. I wanted to average 12-12:30, and I figured as I faded, I would. I kept telling myself: Get the numbers out of your head. Keep your core tight, everything else loose and just run. Just run loose.

    Around Mile 4 I could feel the neuroma starting to kick in and by Mile 5, there was my right knee balking. Crap, too early for that. But I pushed through. It wasn't dangerous, stop-and-walk, you're-risking-major-injury pain, and I figured I would try to run through it and see if it subsides like it has been in training.

    I decided to keep my eyes off my watch and just run from mile marker to mile marker, one mile at a time. Don't worry about time, just make it to the next mile marker. It was a strategy that worked, the miles seemed to be piling up relatively quickly and mentally I felt good.

    Soon, I was at Mile 6, which I considered halfway. When it came to this race, I'd always think, It's just 6 miles out and back. I know it's really 6.55, but for some reason the extra .55 sounded daunting. Let's just pretend 6 is halfway.

    The race was very well organized, with 11 water and Gatorade stops over the 13.1 miles. At every water stop I would grab two cups, get off to the side and walk until I finished them. I can't run and drink. Sure, it looks cool, but more water ends up on the ground or on my shirt than in my body. Plus, it wasn't like I was going to win the race, I could stop and walk for a minute.

    At the halfway mark I grabbed more water and Gatorade and some Gu. I had never tried it before, but I figured, why not. I know why not, it's friggin' nasty. Turns out it was chocolate flavor, so it was like chocolate slime. Ewww, gahd, it was horrid. I pulled out my Uncle Sam cereal, grabbed a handful and walked until I was done chewing and drinking.

    As I started running, I thought, Wow, I feel really fresh. It was getting hot, but I felt very good. Even the knee and neuroma were subsiding. Mentally I was spot on, not tired, not hot or flushed.

    Another fortuitous event happened at 6 miles - we were finally on the Blackstone Valley bike path portion of the course. Up until that point we were winding through the City of Pawtucket and neighborhoods with no shade, the sun reflecting off the black asphalt and typical city-road terrain.

    The bikepath was shaded, smooth and cool. This lasted until Mile 11, thank goodness. By Mile 8, I felt my hamstrings starting to tighten, so I made a decision to run-walk. I would walk for 1 minute, then run for 4. This method is advocated by running expert Jenny Hadfield, who notes that the walking won't adversely affect your time because it will help you run better, so you make it up.

    Just those 1-minute walk breaks really helped. My hamstrings loosened and it let me really run 4 good minutes at a time. I kept track of my splits at each mile and she was right: My pace averages were better with the run-walk than they were with the straight run when my hamstrings started to give me trouble.

    Soon I spied the marker for Mile 10 and looked at my watch. I'd been running for 2 hours. Wow, I had? I still felt really good (hamstrings nonwithstanding). I could do this. I was really going to finish this.

    At Mile 11, it was good news, bad news. Bad news was we were off the bike path and back in the city. The good news: We only had 2 miles to go! I pushed myself on, You'll be done in less than 35 minutes!

    And thank goodness, because it was hot. I passed an electronic thermometer on a business sign and it read 80. I believed it. But by Mile 12, I could have been running on hot coals and nothing would have stopped me. I was almost done.

    I crossed a street and the cop stopping traffic said, "Only .65 left."

    Wow. I did my last run-walk interval and thought, Screw it. I am running the last bit straight. I want my medal now.

    Soon, there was the Mile 13 marker. I could see Pawtucket City Hall in the distance (the starting/finish line) and soon the blue chutes. This was it, the final tenth.

    I turned the corner and started to give it whatever I had left. High on adrenaline, I still felt good and was about to realize my dream of finishing a half-marathon. I really couldn't believe it.

    Now, funny thing. I put together a wonderful playlist last night (below, click to enlarge. It was too long for one screenshot).

    It was like a Melissa's Greatest Hits, as I went through all my running playlists and picked out my favorites from each. I loaded on 2.7 hrs of music, more than I would need, and hit Shuffle when I started the race. I thought it would be fun to not know which song I would cross the finish line to, and I wondered throughout the race, What song will it be? As each song came on during the race, I'd think, Well, it won't be this one.

    CHASE's "Get It On" finished just as I entered the chutes. I put on my best determined-runner face for the race photographers as I strode toward the finish line. I heard the race announcer call my name, "Here's another half-marathon finisher, Melissa Shaw!" The crowd at the chutes began to cheer. I wanted to cry, it was so amazing.

    In the distance, I saw the official clock, the timing pads and beyond them a volunteer holding out my finisher's medal in the air. I crossed one pad, then another. I held out my hand and grabbed my medal. I lifted it in the air, over my head in a triumphant fist-pump and I heard the crowd off to the right yell, "Yeah! Way to go!"

    I slowed to a walk, grabbed some water from another volunteer and realized: I have no idea what song I finished on.

    Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to run another.

    That would be the perfect ending to this post, but I can't leave you hanging on the post-race wrapup, eg, How do you feel?

    Surprisingly, very good, which means my training was right on. Yeah, I'm stiff in the hamstrings if I sit for an extended period of time, but otherwise I feel great. I'm very surprised how fast the race seemed to go.

    One of my concerns when training was it would feel like I was running forever, but it seemed to pass pretty quick. I didn't experience any mental fatigue. When I crossed the finish, I was happy to be done running, for sure, but I wasn't beat up or dead. I still felt good, which was wonderful because 13.1 miles was the longest I've ever run in time (2:46) and distance (previous longest run was 10 miles).

    A year ago today, I fully ran my first 5K. It was a huge, monumental event for me. Now, here I was, just a year later strongly finishing a freaking half-marathon.

    Last year at this time, my big goal was to finish a 3.1-mile race. I did it, and signed up for another. Then another. Then, I turned around and 3.1 didn't seem to hard. But, 4 miles? Could I run 4? So I did. Then 5 and 6.

    I signed up and trained all summer for a 10K. While training for that I did an 8-mile run. I ran 8 miles! And, all of a sudden, 13.1 didn't seem impossible.

    A half-marathon? 13.1 miles? Are you kidding?

    Running is very similar to losing weight in many ways. You want to lose weight but it seems like you've got so much to lose, it will take so long. But you give it a try. You have some success. You try more. You lose a little more. You may have a setback here and there, but you keep trying. You push on.

    You want to run. 3.1 miles seems so far. You're nervous, but you try. It's hard, it's awkward at first, but you try. You learn. You keep running, a little bit more every day.

    The pounds lost add up, and all of a sudden you're doing it. You're really, truly doing it. Then comes that magic day when it hits you and you realize, I am going to do this. I am going to get to goal.

    It's like turning that corner, seeing the chutes and realizing your dream is literally in sight.

    Whether it's running or losing weight, what seem like small advances, slow progress or little successes, they add up. And they pay off. All of a sudden, you're the person you always wanted to be and you earn this:

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    In which my head is still behind

    Two mental-type things happened recently, which just shows how long it takes your head to catch up to your body.

  • I woke up last week from an incredibly odd dream. It was a super quick snippet: A woman, I figure a sales clerk or something, looked at me and said brightly, "You're an XXL, right?"

  • To which I roared back with fury and rage - seriously, it was that emotional:

    "I AM A MEDIUM!"

    I woke up with a start from that very weird, very specific, extremely short nightmare.

    How bizarre. I wonder, what the hell triggered that strange snippet?

  • Last night I was out with a friend and we stopped at Panera for a drink. We went inside, but it was rather cold, so we decided to sit outside, where it was a touch warmer.

  • Still, it was dusk and getting colder, so my friend said, "I'll head to the car. I have two coats, I'll bring one for you."

    Immediately, all I could think was, "I won't fit in that coat." I mean, that thought - preprogramed from a lifetime of similar conclusions - appeared in a microsecond. It was freaky.

    Now, my friend is maybe a size smaller than me, so it wasn't like I was still 282.4 lbs. But my brain automatically seems to think I still am from time to time.

    My friend returned with the jacket and I put it on. It fit fine.

    Suck it, cranium.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    In which I get it from my mom

    Given I'm the mother of three, you'd think I would enjoy Mother's Day. But, truth be told, I don't. At all.

    I enjoy being a mom. I enjoy my children (most of the time, LOL). But I don't enjoy the actual holiday because my mom is no longer with me. To make matters worse, her birthday was May 9, so it always falls the same week of (if not on) Mother's Day.

    In fact, next month she'll be gone 25 years so, sadly, she's been absent from my life far longer than she was in it.

    I think of her multiple times, every day, and Sunday was no exception. Because it was "my" day, I got to sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast in bed thanks to the kids (LUNA Chocolate Raspberry bar and a Diet Coke, my favorites), and then go on my planned 5-mile run.

    It was a lovely day to run: gorgeously sunny and bright, a little on the warm side. I ran, and I thought a lot about my mother. With her birthday passing again and Mother's Day upon me, she was on my mind, to put it mildly.

    Since I lost my weight, people have paid me ridiculously generous compliments, a common one being: "You're an inspiration. How do you keep it up?"

    As I ran Sunday I realized that the endurance comes from my mother. In her early 30s she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. She soldiered through years of dialysis, an ultimately failed kidney transplant and a host of related issues (broken hip, limited mobility).

    She not only endured her trials, but she did it with a positive attitude. I was young, for sure, but I never remember her taking a poor-me attitude. She was relentlessly positive and strong, and if she ever felt down by her circumstances - and I'd be shocked if she didn't - she never did so around me or my younger brother.

    She simply played the hand she was dealt as best she could. Her medical issues (dialysis, repeat hospitalizations, side effects from medicine) were just a part of daily life. They didn't phase her, so they didn't phase us.

    I realized on Sunday that, on a much less serious plane, I do the same thing. My losing was just part of my daily life. My maintenance is a part of my daily life. My activity is part of my daily life. I'm playing the hand I have been dealt. I am active and I live a Weight Watchers lifestyle because it's what I have to do, so I do it. End of story.

    "Yeah," I hear, "But you have three young kids. And you work. How do you do it?"

    I just do. I soldier through, I endure with a smile (most of the time) like my mom. And I am lucky to do so.

    Thinking this through Sunday, I realized that no one would be prouder of my weight-loss efforts than my mother. No one.

    She was a chubby kid who grew into an slightly overweight teen. I've seen pictures of her in her teen years and she slimmed down considerably when she hit her later years of high school. I have no idea how she did it, I can add that question to the laundry list of "Things I Wish I Could Ask My Mom As An Adult."

    As an overweight girl herself, you can understand how difficult it was for her to have an overweight daughter - and I was not merely "overweight." She walked a fine line of urging me to lose vs. harassing me about it - I never felt pressured or punished for my inability to do so.

    As the mother of two girls today, I can only imagine how desperate she felt to get me to a healthy weight and what restraint it took to walk that line between "I love you the way you are" and "You need to lose weight."

    Ironically, when she died I was a couple of months into a successful "diet" - I think it was Diet Center. I had lost 25 lbs and after my mother died, my aunt told me that one of the last things my mother ever told her from her hospital bed was how proud she was of me for losing that weight (I still had much more to go).

    I know my aunt meant well and was probably trying to keep me motivated in some weird-ass way, but, damn. I was 16. My mother just died. Do you really think I gave a crap about losing weight? I can assure I did not, and it stayed that way for a decade.

    Anyway, if my mother was proud of me on her death bed for losing 25 lbs, imagine what she'd feel today. No one would have been a bigger cheerleader and no one would have been more proud. Sure, I know she would love me regardless of my size, but I know her heart would swell with relief over the fact I took care of business in that department and could enjoy my life to the fullest extent.

    Even though we've been parted for a quarter-century now, my mom is my true inspiration. How do I do it? I just remember her endurance, her positive attitude and her unconditional love.

    After mulling over this all in my head for about an hour, my 5 miles were up. I was hot and sweaty, and as I removed my sunglasses I could wipe the tears out of my eyes and make it look like it was sweat, in case anyone was watching.

    I hopped in the car and drove the short distance home, then marshaled the kids for a photo, just like I did last year. Happy Mother's Day, indeed.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012

    In which the hero takes a fall

    I've made a ton of mistakes when it comes to running, but I never took a spill. Until today.

    Truth to be told, I was having a crappy run, anyway. My left knee felt like it was made of plastic for the first mile. I felt clunky, misaligned and very slow. There were definitely no wings sprouting from my ankles today.

    I was a little over a mile into a 3-mile run when an SVU approached. I was running against traffic, like you do, and I scooted closer to the edge of the road to give the car more room to get by (no sidewalks in this literal neck of the woods).

    I was on the country back roads of my neighborhood, routes I have run literally hundreds of times by now, so it wasn't new terrain. It was prime commute time, but also my regular running time, so I was used to being very aware of cars being driven by half-awake motorists speeding through the woods on the way to the main drag.

    Anyway, I shifted more toward the edge of the road/woods to give the SVU a wider berth and my left foot caught on a stray branch on the ground.

    A milisecond later, I was palms down, knees down, head up on the ground.

    First thought: "I am on the ground."

    Second thought (pardon my French): "FUCK, that hurt!"

    Third thought: "Did I rip my shorts?"

    See, just yesterday I bought a brand-new pair of compression shorts. I usually run in compression capris and for the first time I bought compression shorts, which end mid-thigh. First run ever in shorts and I hit the asphalt, scraping the shit out of my knees. Nifty.

    So, bad news: scrapes/road rash on my knees and palms. Good news: Did not rip my $70 shorts. Even better news: Those shorts are crazy awesome. So light.

    I got up gingerly and walked for a half a minute. Everything seemed to still work, so I resumed the run. Funny thing was, I actually seemed to run better after the dive. Go figure.