#FinessFriday: Jumping on the FitBit Bandwagon

Yup. I’ve become THAT person. That person with the fitness tracker.

I was pretty apathetic toward the FitBit when it first came out. It was interesting, but it was a gadget that was out of my price range. I also had enough things tracking my movements – RunKeeper, My Fitness Pal – and really didn’t want another one.

I changed my mind when I realized I needed more accountability. I needed more motivation. I needed something that would force me to get off my ass and take the long way to the bathroom.

After some feedback from friends, I actually decided on purchasing a tracker from JawBone*, mainly because it had a neat little alarm that buzzed at you if you’ve been sitting too long. This is absolutely key when you have a desk job and hours could easily fly by without you having moved from your seat.

Cost, however, became the ultimate determining factor. The comparable FitBit was on sale for $84 on Amazon*. Sorry, JawBone. FitBit won out only because it was $13 cheaper.

To pay for this new little gadget, I used a gift card I got from my insurance company. Blue Cross Blue Shield NC gives you the opportunity to fill out a health assessment in exchange for a $50 gift card. Sure, I’ll take $50 just for spending 20 minutes entering my health information.

Thoughts Thus Far

I got the Flex because it was the cheapest wristband and even with the gift card I was still on a budget. Like all trackers, I know it’s not entirely accurate. I think I added 200 steps when I was petting my dog.

Regardless, seeing the numbers in real time does help motivate me to move a bit more. Hitting 10,000 steps is not easy unless you consciously go for a walk or a run, which I don’t do every day. It gives me a bit of a push while I’m work, which is something I desperately need. Now, I use the upstairs bathroom and take the long way back to the office and I take at least a 10-minute walk on my lunch. I’d like to take it a step further and go for a five minute walk around the building at 11 and 4 for fresh air and added steps.

A two-mile run helped me reach my daily step goal. // After the Knot

A two-mile run helped me reach my daily step goal. // After the Knot

Setting up challenges with your friends is pretty fun and motivating, but it can also be a little discouraging. FitBit will send you little notifications when your friends are catching up to you. Sometimes I look at my phone and think, “Well, OK FitBit, would you like to write up this post about the latest cumin recall?” Generally speaking, the challenges do add a little competition, which is another nice motivator.

// After the Knot

// After the Knot

The sleep tracker is pretty interesting. I’m not entirely sure what you’re suppose to do with that data, but it’s interesting to see that I’m getting just as little sleep as I thought.

I do really like the silent alarm, which in the morning is far less jarring than the radio. Waking up to the same bad country song starts to just make me angry.

// After the Knot

// After the Knot

 

It’s definitely not perfect and there’s been plenty written lately about how the whole fitness tracker fad is just a scam. Truth is, most things related to weight loss and fitness are a scam, but we do them anyway because maybe they work for us. Maybe spending $100 a month on protein shakes helped you drop 20 pounds. Maybe those wrap things everyone talks about actually work. Maybe juicing your meals has helped you eat more vegetables after you started eating solid foods again.

So far, I’m a fan of my FitBit. I don’t LOVE it and I wouldn’t consider it life-changing, but if it helps me stick with a healthier lifestyle then I’m all for it. If it keeps me accountable and keeps me mindful of my actions, then it’s worth it.

I need all the help I can get.

 

Do you have a fitness tracker? What do you think? Love it? Think it’s overrated?

 

*This post contains affiliate links. Learn more about affiliate links here

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#FitnessFriday: 5k Playlist for Slowpokes

With the first 5k of 2015 happening in less than 24 hours, I had to make sure I had my music ready to go.

I’m pretty damn proud of myself for building up the endurance to run 3 miles. This is huge for me as running has never been something at which I was particularly good. I couldn’t run even when I was an active teenager barely weighing in at 100 pounds.

(I can assure you, I’m carrying a hell of a lot more these days.)

But I’m slow. Like really slow. Like old ladies power walk past me slow. Like people who walk the an entire half of a 5k still finish a good 15 minutes before me slow.

turtles in peanut butter

I average about a 14-minute mile on a good day.

I see a lot of half-marathon or marathon playlists that have a good three hours of motivating music. One of the reasons why I’ll likely never do a race longer than a 5k is because the idea of running for three hours sounds like the fifth circle of hell.

But because I’m slow, I need at least 50 minutes of music if I don’t want any repetition.

5Ks without Bailey are the only time I listen to music while I run. On our morning runs, I avoid music so I can hear oncoming cars. Bailey also works as a pretty good motivator. I may not notice if I’ve slowed down, but I can tell by Bailey’s pace or behavior if I need to kick it up a notch.

The magic beats-per-minute number seems to be between 150 and 180 and I have no idea if these songs meet that. There’s plenty of music equipment and software in my house to figure it out, but I really don’t care.

These are some of my favorite songs for blasting in the car, with the windows down while driving down the highway after a long day trapped in an office. These are the songs that make me belt out at the top of my lungs and dance like no one is watching.

5k Playlist

So, do we share any favorites? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments. 

 

#FitnessFriday: Leaving the Studio and Doing Yoga at Home

So this posting once a week thing isn’t really panning out like I had hoped. I need to take a weekend and just finish all of the half-done posts that are sitting in my drafts folder. Then I can schedule them all and pretend I wrote once a week. 

Onward…

I’ve been doing yoga on and off since 2007. I went regularly to the most amazing studio on the face of the earth for about a year until I was laid off and couldn’t really afford the cost. When I finally got another job, it was located 45 miles from home and even yoga was too much after sitting in Long Island traffic for more than an hour.

(Glowing endorsement: If you live in Suffolk, please head over to Essence of Yoga Studio. It’s absolutely everything you’d ever want in a studio. You’ll never want to do yoga any place else.)

When I moved to Raleigh I got a membership at the YMCA and began doing yoga twice a week for a little less than a year. It was great to be back at it. I only stopped when we moved to the opposite side of the county and it was no longer convenient.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

I finally picked it up again last October when I got a membership at the NC State gym. A perk of being the wife of an NC State employee/student (or just a roommate, because that’s all you really need to be) is getting access to this amazing facility at a really affordable price. I used my membership to take yoga once a week and hit the gym sporadically.

Taking yoga classes at State, or any gym really, is kind of the opposite of what you’d get at a studio. Yoga, for many people, including myself, is more than just a workout. In a lot of ways, it’s a meditative and spiritual practice.

For example, when I run, I don’t really think about running. I think about everything. My mind is always working and processing. I have mentally written so many things while running, unfortunately, I rarely get them on paper.

When I do yoga, however, I don’t think about anything but my breathing and what my body is feeling at that exact moment. When my mind does begin to wander, it’s very easy to bring my concentration back to my breath. For an hour or two, my mind is mostly clear of distractions.

Learn more about yoga breathing known as Ujjayi breath. 

It’s a little hard to focus on my breathing when some meathead in the fitness center upstairs keeps dropping heavy weights on the floor. Or when the dance music for the Zumba class next door starts melding with the Christian music the yoga instructor has put on. Maybe I got in a good workout, but I leave there feeling empty.

Leaving the Gym

After taking a look at our finances, I decided we needed to trim down our expenses a bit. Some of our insurance premiums increased and we are starting to save money for the portion of maternity leave that won’t be covered by my short term disability policy (NOT pregnant. Just planning ahead).

I decided to save $25 a month by not renewing my membership at NC State and crowdsourced a few yoga at home options.

One of the recommendations was an iPad/iPhone app called Yoga Studio, which I downloaded for $3.99 and finally broke my paid-app virginity as everything I’ve ever downloaded has been free.

I’ve used it a few times now and I have to say that it was $4 well spent.

This is pretty much my life now. 

It has a variety of sessions that last 15, 30 and 60 minutes focusing on strength, flexibility and relaxation. What I really like about this app is the ability to build my own class. You can start from scratch or copy and edit an existing session.

I tried this feature this week and extended an existing session by an additional 13 minutes by adding more vinyasa flows and warrior combinations. I also nixed a few poses that are just too difficult right now (screw you and your reverse plank) and replaced them with others that are more at my current level.

You can copy and customize an existing session, which is what I did here.

You can copy and customize an existing session, which is what I did here.

I created a 15-minute session to tack on to my strength training routine and I plan on making a few super-short sessions for after running. This should help keep me focused while I stretch instead of half-stretching, half-looking-at-Facebook.

Doing yoga in my living room isn’t the same as Shirley’s studio on Long Island. It’s a bit more distracting and I don’t have the guidance of an experienced instructor. But, although the sessions are short, I do yoga more often now than when I was going to the gym. At this point, it’s the only New Year’s Resolution I’m actually exceeding. I don’t get home late and I don’t end my practice feeling nearly as empty as I once did.

My heart is starting to feel full again and that’s priceless.

Namaste 

 

#FitnessFriday: Running in the Dark

I decided to start 2015 off on the right foot, so on New Year’s Day I went for a run and I came to an odd realization.

I hate running in the sunlight.

I’m sorry, what?

Bailey and I typically hit the pavement by 5:50 a.m. during the week, but seeing as though I was off on New Year’s day, I wasn’t going to get myself up any earlier than my body wanted (one of the joys of currently being childless). On this particular day, we were out the door at about 10:30 a.m.

The sun was shining, and it was a brisk 38-ish degrees. It was a pretty nice day to be outside.

Our run started off almost immediately with a change in course as to avoid two wandering dogs. That was the first of many distractions Bailey and I encountered. There were other joggers, walkers with strollers, homeowners raking the leaves, speeding cars, and dogs testing the boundaries of their invisible fences.

I suddenly found myself in the midst of a dog training session that I wasn’t expecting.

The sun was at the perfect angle to hit right above my eyes, my giant forehead acting like a solar panel. I found myself squinting, which caused my mild headache to worsen. The sun, still strong despite the temperature, beat down on me and I felt hot in my long-sleeved shirt. The heat felt claustrophobic.

I was happy for the three miles to be over.

You know it, Andy.

You know it, Andy.

While petty, these little annoyances made me appreciate my runs before sunrise.

Darkness

Our next run was four days later at 5:40 a.m., a little earlier than our usual time thanks to a temporary bout of insomnia. The full moon gave us some extra light, but the stars still twinkled brightly and I spot Orion’s Belt somewhere along the way. A rooster begins to crow and early-risers warm up their cars. The distant T.V. towers more than 10 miles away blink intermittently as they transmit the morning news. My two feet and Bailey’s four paws seem extra loud as they hit the asphalt.

I listen for cars coming in the distance, but we see less than five that early in the morning. I watch Bailey for signs of distress. She usually spots something concerning before I do. Sometimes it’s another loose dog, other times it’s a pile of boxes on the side of the road.

I keep an eye out for the high schoolers walking to the bus stop, and wave to a sweet girl who always smiles when we pass. Out of habit, I look up to wave hello to the older man that sits on his porch drinking a cup of coffee. He hasn’t been there since the weather cooled, but I expect I’ll see him again soon.

Sometimes we see other runners, but their schedules aren’t as predictable and maybe they slept late that day.

We return to our driveway at about 6:25 a.m. just as the sun begins to brighten the horizon.

A view of the horizon at the end of our run. / After the Knot

A view of the horizon at the end of our run. / After the Knot

We’ll have more light as the days get longer, but even then I’ll always try to be home before the sun rises above the trees. The summer heat is oppressive and unsafe for a dog covered in a heavy coat.

I rarely feel unsafe in my neighborhood, but find that I’m always on the alert – waiting for the next car to come flying around the blind curve or loose dog to say hello. I move further into the road as I pass the occasional wooded lot and eye each darkened stranger with caution until I’m certain it’s just a neighbor going about his morning routine. funny-slow-runner-t-shirt-540x625

I thought I would find more comfort in the light. Cars can see me more easily and strangers can be identified a block away. I can see through the wooded lots and avoid the loose dogs more quickly.

But with the light comes distractions that are louder than listening for an oncoming vehicle. It’s a chorus of cars, and strollers, and dogs, and friendly neighbors, all under this blinding, heavy blanket.

Even with an eye of caution, the darkness is quiet. It’s peaceful.

And on our quiet run in the dark, I realized that I somehow learned to become OK with setting my alarm for 5:10 a.m. and heading out the door 40 minutes later.

Somehow, I learned to like running.

Somehow, in the darkness, I became a runner.

#FitnessFriday: Turkey Day 5K

I had this brilliant idea a couple of months back to run a 5k on Thanksgiving.

Everyone replied, “I guess you’re not cooking?” Oh no. I did. For eight people.

Race Day

Bailey was my running buddy for the past two races I did, but this time I went at it alone. I was curious as to how I would really do without the distractions that come with running with a dog (Poop. It always comes down to dog poop.).

The weather was cold and rainy, which of course, is awesome. I honestly don’t mind the cold. I hate being hot when I run. I’d rather be a bit on the chilly side. The rain was another story.

Runners waited inside until a race organizer announced that it was time to get lined up. Off we all went just as the cold rain started to come down. And there we stood for a good 10 minutes.

Just waiting. In the rain.

Thankfully, by the time we got going, the rain had let up and the sun was slowly starting to peek through the clouds.

Not too sure what to do with these things. Part of me wants to keep them and the other just wants to get rid of the clutter.

Not too sure what to do with these things. Part of me wants to keep them and the other just wants to get rid of the clutter.

The race was held in a notoriously wealthy part of town, which is fine. No ill will on their end. Not being a resident of this wealthy part of town, I was unaware how hilly it was. A few weeks back I stopped avoiding the big steep hill in my neighborhood, which ended up being good training for this course.

The hills were longer, but less steep so I knew that I could handle them at a slow, but steady pace.

Sidebar: To all the moms and dads that pushed strollers up those hills, I applaud you. I hope to one day be as fit as you. 

The finish line, of course, was at the top of a hill, which as you can imagine is really super fucking awesome when you’re 40 pounds overweight and physically exhausted from jogging all of those other hills.

Results

My race mantra was, “Slow and steady finished the race without walking.”

I don’t judge people who walk part of all of their 5k. I mean, my pace is so slow that most people can walk next to me so who am I to judge anyone?

See sidebar above. 

But walking isn’t my goal. My goal is to finish without walking. My goal is to run, jog, whatever, the entire thing no matter how slow the pace.

Race 1 – Run for Their Lives 5k: 45:42, 14:44 min mile

Race 2 – Dog Day 5k: 43:16, 13:57 min mile

Race 3 – Just Think First 5k: 41:34, 13:24 min mile

Red-faced, exhausted and representing the NY Islanders.

Red-faced, exhausted and representing the NY Islanders.

I took off quite a bit of time overall, but I attribute that to not having Bailey and not because I’ve improved my pace since my last race.

Despite that, I’m proud that my race times continue to creep downward and I continue to achieve my goal of finishing without walking.

Winter Training

Thankfully this part of North Carolina has fairly mild winters so I should be able to keep up with my jogging regime until race season starts up next spring. Bailey needs the exercise so I don’t have much of a choice.

My ultimate goal is an overall time of 30 minutes for a 10-minute-mile.

Since walk/jog intervals got us to 3 miles, I figure jog/run intervals will help bring down our time. Using street lights as markers, Bailey and I jog for two street lights and walk for three. We do this until we get to the bottom of the big hill and break to focus on just getting back up.

The system seems to be working out well: I feel like I’ve added a challenge to my workout, without feeling like I’m killing myself and Bailey is happy that we’ve picked up the speed.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to hit my goal by the time the race season starts back up in the spring.

But, then again, this time last year, I couldn’t even jog a mile.

It just might happen.

#FitnessFriday: Dog Day 5k

I was at the vet’s office with Bailey when I noticed a flyer for a 5k sponsored by a Golden Retriever rescue group.

“Ya wanna run another 5k, Bailey?” I asked.

I don’t even think she looked at me. She was too interested in all the dog smells.

I impulse-registered for the race, which at that point was only a couple of weeks after the first one I had completed.

What the hell, I thought.

Race Day

On race day, I was more  concerned with how Bailey was going to deal with being around so many dogs. Bailey is incredibly friendly so when she sees a dog that she believes is her new best friend, Bailey MUST. GO. MEET. HER.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s also why I have an appointment with a trainer next week.

Unlike my first 5k, the morning was about 20 degrees cooler, hovering in the upper 50s. I was one of the only people rocking a tank top, because I’d rather be a little chilly than too hot.

I positioned myself in the back, knowing all of these real runners and their dogs were going to take off sprinting the minute they got the OK. That’s what happened and we watched as they ran off ahead of us. Bailey tried to pull ahead, clearly angry that her human is far too slow at this.

Soon, the crowd of runners who are also dog owners was far in the distance and Bailey and I could handle the rest of the race at our own pace.

Unlike the other race, I was familiar with this route on foot and I knew that it was mostly flat with some short hills here and there. I had never jogged it, but I knew it would be similar to our route at home.

Our chip time clocked in at 43:16 for a 13:57-mile.

If you remember, just a couple of weeks earlier, our chip time was 45:42 for a 14:44-mile.

The clock says we improved our overall time by about a minute and a half, but realistically, we did even better.

Doggy kisses after our race.

Doggy kisses after our race.

We had to stop twice. The first was a quick bathroom break where I lost some time cleaning up after Bailey. No biggie.

The second was much longer. Bailey became a stone when the smell of something awesome was just way more overpowering than jogging with me. Her harness became tangled as I tried to pull her away from whatever was mesmerizing her. After one failed attempt of fixing the harness without taking it off, I ended up having to do just that.

I was half annoyed, half thankful for the excuse for a break.

I was absolutely certain that we added a few minutes and wouldn’t beat our time from our first race. Needless to say, I was incredibly surprised when I got a look at the clock as I ran toward the finish line and realized that we had actually beat our time from that first race.

I’m looking forward to the race in November. Since I’ll be doing it alone, I’m really interested to see what my dog-less capabilities are.

The Kindness of Runners

We were about a half-mile away from the finish line when I really started to feel exhausted and on the verge of quitting. Despite being so close, I just felt so far.

Another runner came walking in my direction, clearly having finished the race like 20 minutes earlier. I smiled and nodded, because I’m polite like that, and she responded with, “You’re doing great. You’re almost there.”

I choked out a breathless thank you.

A minute or two later, another runner came walking by, presumably heading to his car. “You’re doing great! Keep going! You’re almost there.”

Another breathless thank you.

These two perfect strangers gave me the boost I needed to pick up the pace and get across that finish line a minute and a half sooner than I had just two weeks before. I’m not sure they know the difference their words made.

It’s not the first time this has happened to me. A few years back, I was jogging on a greenway near our apartment, feeling equally as exhausted, when someone running by said, “You’re doing awesome!”

I was so surprised, I nearly fell.

I don’t know much about running culture, so I’m left wondering if giving words of encouragement to complete strangers is something that you just do, much like how all Jeep owners wave at each other.

Is it proper etiquette, like saying, “On your left/right” when you’re passing someone? Or did I just encounter three really kind people? As a New Yorker, I’m still blown away by public acts of kindness.

I’d love if a runner would shed some light on it only because I’m curious. As someone on the receiving end, I can tell you that these words mean the world. They seem to come when you need them the most and remind you how far you’ve come.

So if this is just a thing you runners do, I hope you keep it up. It makes a world of difference.

#FitnessFriday: How My Dog is Saving My Life

I’m overweight.

I’ve been overweight for a long time. I wasn’t always overweight. I used to be underweight. When I was a teenager I had a skinny, little 103-pound body that I would hide under baggy T-shirts and wide-leg jeans because I was a tomboy.

Now I’m over 30, I’m substantially larger and I hate it.

Since being married, I’ve tried, and failed, to lose weight. I’ve never been dedicated enough to exercise regularly or eat properly.

While I still have difficulty eating properly (I just effing love food. I’m sorry.), during the past year, I’ve been much better at exercising regularly.

I haven’t changed. I’m still lazy as hell. But, I have a dog now. My dog needs exercise. When she doesn’t get it, she tears my house apart.

Taking a quick break after a 3-mile walk around the lake.

Taking a quick break after a 3-mile walk around the lake.

Bailey is a Lab mix. Read: HIGH ENERGY. I got her when my neighbor’s dog had an unplanned litter of puppies. She was sort of an impulse adoption. Not that we didn’t think long and hard about taking her, but we weren’t planning on getting a dog when we rescued her.

We started walking together in April 2013. Bailey was about four months old. We only walked a mile, maybe two, depending on the day. Most of our walks were spent teaching Bailey how to walk properly on a leash.

In October 2013, we started jogging. I dusted off my Couch to 5k app and we started doing our interval training. We never made it through the full program. We always had to stop for one reason or another. I sprained an ankle, Bailey got spayed, the weather got too cold.

Then on Feb. 18, 2014, we jogged an entire mile without stopping.

Now, I get it. One mile? Not very impressive. At that moment, I could count on one hand how many times I’ve jogged an entire mile.

I. Can’t. Run.

I never could run. Even as a skinny, bitty teenager I couldn’t run. EVER. So not only did I jog an entire mile, I did it outside in my hilly neighborhood which is exponentially more difficult than doing it on a treadmill. This mile was like my Everest.

We kept at it, slowly increasing our distance. On May 16, I started and just didn’t stop. I was angry I had gained three pounds that week. Before I knew it, I had jogged three miles. One mile for every frustrating pound I gained. I was in absolute shock. And then in pain.

Keeping track of our progress with RunKeeper

Keeping track of our progress with RunKeeper

Knowing making such a large jump in distance was the best way for me to injure myself, I dialed back and slowly worked my way back up a quarter-mile at a time.

In the meantime, I signed up for a 5k to benefit a rescue organization for cats. I figured it was the perfect motivation to keep at it.

Just shy of a month before the race, Bailey and I hit three miles again.

We jog together three times a week, hitting the pavement by 6am when it’s still dark. On the alternate days, we walk. I joined the gym at the state college where C works and takes classes so I started weight training and going back to yoga.

To say that my dog is saving my life seems like an exaggeration, but when you really think about it, it’s not. Without her, I wouldn’t wake up at 5:15am five days a week to workout before work. I wouldn’t be able to jog three miles, something that has always seemed downright impossible for me. I would likely still living an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle that would no doubt end in some kind of weight-related condition like diabetes.

So in October, we’ll run our first 5k together.  For her, it’ll just be another jog, just with a lot more people. For me, it’s reaching a goal that seemed so unattainable, it wasn’t even really a goal. It’s doing something I never thought I’d ever do. It’s the start of being a better me.

And it’s all because of her. Bailey, my dog.

 

Head on over to Kiss My Tulle for some tips for jogging with your dog.