#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.

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Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions Post

As 2014 came to a close, I’m likely one of many people that reflected on the promised improvements they made this time last year.

For me, New Year’s resolutions have always been kind of useless. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really achieved any of the goals I set for myself. I do like considering the New Year as a blank slate, though. I think dwelling on the mistakes of your past can be destructive, but setting broad goals without any sort of infrastructure to help achieve them defeats the purpose.

What good is “lose 60 pounds” if I don’t also include the steps I’ll need to actually lose that much weight? Case in point, losing 60 pounds has been my New Year’s resolution for a good two years, but not only did I not achieve that goal each year, I put on more weight.

Finally shedding 18 pounds wasn’t due to multiple resolutions; my weight loss was due to accomplishing small goals and changes throughout the year (and yes, weight loss medication my doctor prescribed).

It was setting a goal to work out four times a week and including two vegetables with dinner (something we still struggle with). It was trying desperately to avoid eating carbs for lunch and dinner. It was signing up for three 5Ks with a goal to do them without walking. It was striving to go to yoga once a week. Those little goals had more of an impact on my success than the bold statement of “lose 60 pounds.”

So, this year I’m taking a different approach to New Year’s resolutions.

In that vein, here are some small goals to get 2015 started:

Finances

Our paltry savings were wiped out when we moved to Raleigh more than four years ago. Consistent financial insecurity has caused us to put any potential savings toward chipping away at debt (medical, credit card and student loan).

someecards.com

someecards.com

While that hasn’t changed, I decided to build up our savings again by automatically drafting $20 from each paycheck. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to transfer those accrued savings, but in my savings account is where they should stay.

Fitness

The past year, I’ve focused mainly on cardio because I only have time to do one workout each day and the dog can’t lift weights. This year, I want to do at least two days of strength training per week.

I’m not giving up running (or “running”), though. As I’ve written about before, now that I’ve reached my distance goal, I’ll be working on speed to bring down my mile time. Like last year, I’ll sign up for a few races to keep me focused and motivated.

earthporm.com

earthporm.com

I want to continue going to yoga at least once a week, kicking it up to two when it works with my weekend schedule. At the very least, I plan on incorporating yoga into my strength training routine. Sun salutations are like yoga burpees, I assure you.

(They look easy, but do 10 rounds and tell me how your arms feel the next day)

Food

We’ve been half-assing an attempt to include more produce into our diet for a while now. Most of it goes in the compost pile unused and rotten. This year, on top of wasting less, I want to start thinking about our meals a little differently.

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

We generally focus on protein and build dinner around that.

Example: We have chicken. What can we make with chicken? Chicken cutlets. OK. What else are we having with it?

Instead, I’d like to focus on a particular vegetable and build the dinner around it, even if it’s still the side dish.

Example: We have spinach. What can we make with spinach? Sautéed spinach. OK. What else are we having with it?

I have no idea if this mental change will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Dog Training

My dog is freaking awesome, but she’s far from perfect. Her recall only works in my yard and she gets so excited when she sees people or dogs that are obviously her new best friend, she lunges and barks until her harness gets twisted and people stare at me with their judgey eyes. This is Bailey’s terrifying way of saying, “I love you and I’m so happy to see you.”

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I'll never see her again. / After the Knot

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I’ll never see her again. / After the Knot

We’ve already started learning a new cue, “touch,” to help bring her focus back on me. We’re also working on “focus” to keep her attention there. This year we’ll continue working on these cues, along with practicing recall in the front yard, outside the boundaries of our fence.

 

And that’s it. I’m leaving it at that.

I’d like to get more organized, learn how to sew, learn a new crochet stitch, read more books, go hiking more regularly, go kayaking, and paint the hallways in my house. And if I do all that, awesome. But if I don’t, it’ll be OK.

Here’s to 2015, a blank slate.

#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: My First 5K

Two weeks ago Bailey and I participated in our first 5K.

As expected, we crossed the finish line somewhere close to the end, but our goal was to jog the entire thing, regardless of how slow that jog was.

I am proud to report that we did just that.

We came in with an embarrassing chip time of 45:42 for a 14:44-minute mile.

I may have been able to shave off a minute or two had Bailey not stopped to do her business three times, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. Also, unlike some people who were running with their dogs, I actually stopped to pick it up.

Shame on you, dog owners.

Bailey and I before the race. I wouldn't have been able to do it without her.

Bailey and I before the race. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.

The Course

While I was familiar with the race-location, I had never traversed it on foot, only by car. I knew there were some fairly steep hills, which of course, were awesome.

Half the race, as it turned out, was up hill.

My neighborhood has its hills, but I’ve been purposely avoiding some of the more challenging ones. At this point, I avoid one because it’s in a dark part of my neighborhood. The other, I just avoid.

Maybe some more time on those hills would have helped me out.

The weather was beautiful that day. It was sunny, in the low 70s and a bit breezy.

But man, was it hot. The North Carolina sun is strong and 70 felt like 80. I’m used to jogging in the dark and getting home before the sun has even started waking up. I don’t think I ever wanted it to be 5:45am so badly.

One of my friends jogged alongside me even though she could have just as easily walked. We chatted quite a bit, which is something I’m also not used to. It was great to have her there to keep my mind off of how much I hated that damn race at that moment.

Another friend finished the race well before I did, but came back to finish it with me.

It made my heart so happy to have them both there. I don’t think I would have been able to keep jogging without their motivation and their support. I wanted to stop so badly so many times, but thanks to them, I kept going.

Too Focused on Numbers

I was hung up on my race numbers for a good week. I couldn’t stop focusing on them as though they were some sort of representation of how hard I’ve been working. I focused on those numbers like I focus on the numbers on the scale. I keep hoping for both to go down.

Sometimes I think I focus on the numbers because I can’t seem to wrap my head around what I have actually accomplished. Less than  year ago I couldn’t jog a complete mile and here I was doing three. I couldn’t jog a mile as a skinny kid in high school, but here I am, doing three while 40-ish pounds overwheight.

And maybe that’s why I can’t give myself credit I deserve. Despite all of the jogging, I’m still 40 pounds overweight. The goal weight still seems so far away and unattainable, it’s hard to focus on the weight I’ve lost and what I’ve been doing to get here.

Although my goal weight seems unattainable, I do feel like I have the ability to jog longer distances. I feel like if I wanted to, I could train to run a 10K or a 15K. Those numbers don’t seem so scary any more. They seem real.

Will I do it? Probably not. I’m not convinced jogging that far with a dog on a regular basis will be good for Bailey’s joints in the long run. I don’t want to cross over from making her stronger, to making her weaker.

And quite frankly, I hate jogging. Well…maybe hate isn’t the right word, but I don’t really enjoy it either. I find it boring. Because my neighborhood lacks sidewalks, I need to stay alert for cars. This means I can’t listen to music. Six miles without music? Ugh. No way.

A blogger friend of mine who is also a runner asked me if I was addicted yet. I told her no, but then I went on to sign up for two more 5Ks.

This weekend Bailey and I will be participating in a race to benefit animal shelters around North Carolina.

The second race I signed up for is on Thanksgiving. I’m not entirely sure if Bailey would be allowed to run with me, but I don’t intend on doing it with her. As much as I love having my workout buddy beside me, I kind of want to try this one on my own.

Just me, a rockin’ playlist, and no bags filled with poop.

#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.