Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Riding A Tandem Taught Me About Life

I'm married. Yep, officially a Mrs. 

Ten days also, I held the hand of that trusty fellow who first won my heart by leaving me a scribbled good luck note and CD at my work the day before the Hampton Half Marathon in 2009, and said, "I do."

Yes, that trusty fellow who's followed me around on his bike while I plodded my way through marathon training, who acted as Head Sherpa for long runs, who never failed to be on the sidelines or the finish line with a smile, hug and a cowbell. 

That same trusty fellow who's challenged me to get onto two wheels, to tackle the climbs I don't think I can do, to take far-fetched bicycle adventures through new parts of the country and to think it's totally normal to walk into a restaurant clad head-to-toe in spandex.

I've never been happier and more at peace with my life. Things are just so right.

Four days into our new marriage, while on our honeymoon, we decided to put things to the ultimate test by renting a tandem bike. Yep, that thing known as a "marriage wrecker" in some circles.

But it just seemed so perfect, so metaphorical - joining together, literally, after joining together, figuratively (and legally).  Yes, yes, the bicycle-built-for-two challenge would be a fitting way to celebrate our union, our partnership and test our ability to work as a team.

We both feel confident on our individual bikes, pedaling thousands and thousands of miles over the years. Riding has become second-nature, no longer having to think about balancing or pedaling or steering or any of the mechanics that consume you when you first start riding. I suppose that's why we were only mildly worried about the tandem bike.

We probably should have been more worried.

After a quick intro to the tandem road bike by the bike shop guys and, of course, signing the liability waiver, we were off. Or at least we tried.

We walked the tandem to the side of main street in Calistoga, the northern part of Napa Valley, and jumped on - totally ready to roll. Jeff rode in front with the brakes, shifting and steering. I was in back, facing my fear of not being in control in a very real, very scary way.

We pushed off, like we normally would when starting a ride, and lasted about, oh, 2 seconds before harshly slamming our feet back on the ground and tipping the bike, pretty much uncontrollably, to the side. Hmmm, this would be harder than we thought.

Almost immediately, and probably not surprisingly, we started coming up with systems and processes. Count to three when "launching" or stopping, communicating when Jeff planned a shift in gears. Everything required a plan. Everything required us to be in sync. Everything, everything required communication.

I won't lie. That first 10 minutes was killer. I felt like we would topple at any moment. The bike seemed absurdly heavy and hard to handle. I was tense. I was afraid of falling. I thought we'd never make it all the way to Yountville, about 20 miles away.

We continued to tweak our riding methods and, bit by bit, improved. Sure, we only rode in a straight line for the first 20 miles - yes, we walked our bike across the street to avoid turning -  and sure, we took breaks every five miles or so give our brains a break from concentrating so much. But slowly, very slowly, we got the hang of it. 

As we rode, and as I relaxed enough to think about anything other than the fact that we might completely wipe out on this thing, I started to think about all of the things that riding a tandem bike can teach you about life. And marriage.

COMMUNICATE. Every little thing had to be communicated. Everything. We first found this out the hard way when Jeff, up front, decided to stop pedaling momentarily. I, in the back, continued to pedal at my regular cadence - or tried to. You know that feeling when your chain jams and you're suddenly met with extreme resistance when you try to push forward. Yeah, like that. As we rode, we got into a rhythm, communicating the most comfortable pace, when to stop and start, how to lean into turns. When we communicated everything, it was smooth sailing.

IT'S OK TO RELINQUISH CONTROL. Okay, this is a hard one for me. Really, really hard. As the backseat passenger, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be steering, shifting or braking. I had to completely trust someone else, trust that they would take care of me, do the right thing and get us where we needed to go. 

YOU DON'T HAVE TO SEE WHERE YOU'RE GOING. I love a plan. I like to know what's in front of us, what's around the corner. With everything - work, life, training - I like to know and see where I'm going. I spent the first few miles trying to peek around Jeff's shoulders, to alert him of road hazards up ahead (like he couldn't see them) and to see where we were going. It was an exercise in futility, and if anything, just continued to throw us off balance as I bobbed side to side around his shoulders. Once I realized I didn't need to see where I was going, I could relax and enjoy the moment, to enjoy the blue Napa sky, the rows of grape vines and the peaks of mountains in the distance. 

TAKE BREAKS. The tandem was way, way harder than any regular bike ride - especially mentally. We took far more breaks than we normally would on any ride to give our brains a rest from concentrating so intently. It also gave us a chance to stretch a bit and recap what we'd learned along the way.

KEEP GOING. Yes, keep going even when things are hard. Especially when things are hard. A few miles in, both Jeff and I were ready to head back to the bike shop - not ready to commit to the full-day rental we signed up for. Solo bikes would have been a lot easier, a lot more relaxing and, perhaps overall, more fun. But conquering a new challenge, especially doing it with someone, is particularly satisfying and well worth it in the end.

DO THINGS THAT SCARE YOU. Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt was right. Do one thing every day that scares you. Riding this tandem qualified for a week's worth of scary things. It pushed us way outside our comfort zones and made us question our ability. Sometimes we need that.

EVERYTHING'S EASIER WITH WINE. It might just be coincidence, but we got notably better after our lunch break in Yountville that included a glass of wine. (Hey, we were in Wine Country!) 

We wrapped up the ride with a lot more smiles - and confidence - than we started, gliding to a stop in front of the bike shop and congratulating each other with hugs and high-fives. Heck, we finished the ride with 40 miles under our belts. Tandem riding, I think, has some dog-year conversion chart, so surely that was the equivalent riding a century or so.

We'd done it. We'd taken on a new challenge together and figured it out ourselves. We'd worked together and we didn't give up, even when we both wanted to.

I think we'll do just fine together. Forever.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Case Of The "Too's"

Yep, I started 2013 with a bang. All the good personal and career stuff aside, I was really hitting my stride - and my mileage goals - when it came to running and riding.

Each month, I pushed myself a little harder. Each month, I worried about whether I'd be able to hit the marks. Each month, I did.

Until now.

I guess, five months into the year, one month of not hitting the goal isn't the end of the world.  As someone told me, if you hit your goals every month, they're not really challenging you. Point taken.

I know the month isn't over yet. But it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out I won't hit the May Monthly Challenge to log 300 miles, 250 of them bike miles and 50 run miles. I'd have to somehow pull out, uh, 150 or so miles. Um, not happening.

That's not to say I'm not having a decent month. My miles are still climbing, overall, as the year progresses. And longer daylight hours and warmer (sometimes!) weather means more time on my bike.

So what happened to May?

Simply put, I'm suffered a case of the "too's."

You know, too tired. Too busy. Too hot. Too rainy. Too cold. Too early. Too late. Too dark. You get the idea.

I've said this a million times: There's always a reason not to run or ride. This month, I seemed to find a lot of excuses.

I mean two times this month, I came home from work, changed into my running clothes  - then totally lost my motivation, changed back into regular clothes and went out to eat. Twice. 

And now, just too many miles left to go to hit the mark.

I spent today's run trying to convince myself not to give up entirely on the goal, even if it's a re-adjusted one. There's still several days left in the month, so I've decided to push myself a bit. Some quick math shows me that I'll have to log more than 100 miles by Friday to hit it. 

That's going to be a stretch. But I'll give it my best shot.

And, I'll come out swinging for June's goal. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Starting 2013 With A Bang

Just before 2012 came to a close, I predicted that 2013 would be a "mighty fine" year. A quarter into the year, I can confidently say it totally is.

And then some.

Although I've been working hard on being more focused on my running and riding goals (more on that later), it's really my "real life" that's come out of the gate with some gusto.

Most notably, the focus of the year took a turn on Jan. 13 when, at the summit of my first winter 4,000-footer, I turned around to see Jeff, smiling, holding a tiny box. Inside, was the most beautiful, unique engagement ring. 

In case there was any doubt, I said yes. (Actually, I'm pretty sure I said, "Of course.")  

The details of the hike and the day are a post for another time, a post I've had on my mental to-do list for a while. It's sufficient to say that that moment changed the focus for the year.

Suddenly, in an instant, I turned into a girl. Like, an honest-to-goodness girly-girl - the kind that joined Pinterest and planned out wedding colors and invitation designs and hair-styles. 

If wedding planning didn't solidify my girly-ness, two weeks ago I became an auntie for the first time. My brother and sister-in-law welcomed the most precious, sweet girl into their lives (and ours) - and I'm completely hooked on her. So tiny and peaceful and unbelievably cute.  I just can't get enough.

Yes, there's been so much "life" going on this year, that it seems like it can't possibly only be three months in to 2013. On the other hand, I can hardly believe that it's already time for my "quarterly" check-in on my goals (per my New Year's post). 

But here it goes...

HEALTH AND FITNESS. The turn of the calendar to the new year also lit a fire under me to get my butt back in gear. I've been meeting weekly with a personal trainer, whose helped me focus on strength training and kept me accountable. The training sessions, combined with laser-focus on meeting my monthly mileage goals, is paying off. I've dropped about 7 pounds and am noticing my pants are fitting a little looser. Yes, a far cry from checking the box on my 26.2 challenge, but with much-improved endurance and strength, I'm chalking this up in the positive column. And I'm not done yet. Each month brings higher and higher mileage. And, to my delight, I've found the desire to do more - to keep pushing, to keep reaching. I'm not quite ready to declare that I'm back to my "old self," but I'm getting there. For the second quarter goal, I'll continue to lay out concrete monthly mileage goals, clearly broken down into running and riding miles, and tracked along the way. I'm thinking 200 miles for April, 300 for May and, yikes, 400 for June? Get ready, bike.

BE IN THE MOMENT. Oh, I really liked this goal. And I really needed this goal. I did pretty well ... for a while. I left the cell phone at home during dinner-dates. I chose between watching television and surfing the web. On conference calls, I actually just listened and participated in the call. But then I fell back into my multi-tasking habits. (Case in point, I'm typing this on the couch while half-watching The Voice in the background.) For the second quarter, I'm leaving this one on the list. Clearly I need some work here.

DOLLARS AND CENTS. I'm *thisclose* to being debt-free. In fact, I thought I might get there before the end of first quarter of the year. By the end of the second quarter, I'll be totally debt-free. Just in time to plan - and pay for - a wedding. 

LOVE LIFE. If there's one thing that this first quarter of the year has taught me, it's to just embrace all of the good things - no, great things - that life has to offer. It's okay to be a girly-girl and spend pointless time browsing ideas for the wedding. It's okay to just totally love my little niece sleeping on my chest. It's time well-spent to just hang at my parents house watching The Biggest Loser. For the second quarter, I will do whole lot more of those "life" things. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

26.2 Update: Using The Buddy System

Not an accurate reflection of my personal training experience.

I pride myself of being pretty independent, not afraid to do thing by myself. The downside of that is that asking for help is sometimes really hard. And scary.

At the end of last year, I shared my latest goal to shed some of the pounds I've built up over the past year or so - 26.2 of them, to be exact. I likened the challenge to training for a marathon, knowing it was going to take time and effort and focus. Within the first week or so, I dropped about five pounds, mostly by watching my portion sizes and passing on a drink with dinner.

Then I got a bit stuck. Facing my virtual "marathon," I'd only gotten to a  point of being able to run five miles. 

That certainly wasn't going to cut it.

So I enlisted some help. I sought out a personal training program we have through my employer. Over the years, I'd toyed with the idea of hiring a personal trainer to help keep me on track and push me outside my comfort zone. But the cheapskate in me wouldn't pull the trigger to write the check. 

Realizing having an ally for the weight loss journey could be advantageous, I started asking about the personal training program. I'm still a bit of a penny-pincher so the money part still irked me. When a deal came up at the end of the year to get three free sessions with the purchase of 10, I seized the opportunity. 

I wasn't sure what to expect - something like the photo above or Jillian Michaels, in my face yelling? Definitely not what I got.

My trainer and I met to talk about my goals and fitness level, and take the dreaded measurements and weight. I did a food journal for a week, logging every thing I ate and drank, and what time I did so.  

I must admit a really dislike the food log exercise. I've avoided it for years now, despite knowing that the people who have the most success with weight loss and maintenance track what they eat. When I went in for my consultation about my food log, I dreaded the conversation. I mean, I eat relatively healthy (no soda, no fast food, minimal processed food), but I do like to eat out and I do like my glass(es!) of wine with dinner.

I didn't want to be told to change. But, I told myself, that's what this process is all about. If I stay the same, I will, well, stay the same.

Interestingly, the two people I met with about my food log didn't chastise me or tell me to cut this or that. Instead, they praised me for having a really good base. The problem, they said, is that I wasn't fueling my body enough. I had to eat more - more often, to be more precise.

My homework was to eat every two to three hours, which sounds like an easy task. I really struggled with it. I was shocked at how quickly a couple of hours went by, especially on busy work days filled with meetings and running around. I was also told to incorporate a bit of protein with each meal/snack. I've made some good progress with this, working in Greek yogurt, homemade hummus and other protein-rich foods.

I know this because I've kept up with the food log - and even suggested that I send a copy to the trainer each week. Just to keep me focused and on track. (I cannot believe I offered - and asked - to keep a food log and email it to someone.)

Over the weeks, it's been about four now, my trainer has asked the right questions to figure out what motivates me, and now that he understands more about what makes me tick. I think we've come up with a winning strategy.

I'm motivated by numbers, tracking and accountability. I like to see the progress. I like charts and graphs. I like to analyze what works and what doesn't. (It doesn't take a genius to figure this out - just look at my last post, cutting my stats this way and that.)

In addition to the weekly training sessions, monthly weigh-ins and measurements, we've agreed to have other numbers-based challenges. For the next two months, I'll log 100 miles of biking or running each month. Of that, 50 miles will be running. (There was a time when those numbers were the norm or even easy for me, but this will be a stretch given my recent history.) Two months from now, we'll come up with the next challenge. 

It would kill me to turn in a monthly report that didn't hit these numbers, and I've already found myself in the gym more. As much as I hated the exercise, I also  suggested that I submit a weekly food log - partly to just keep me honest and accountable, but also to keep nutrition in the forefront.

My trainer, while he whole-heartedly supports my goal and loves the personal nature of it, isn't as concerned about the pounds as I am. He's looking more at the other measurements, like body fat percentage and inches. He's looking to see how I improve my stamina and strength. 

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous at my first appointment. I didn't quite know what to expect. The trainer works me hard, focusing one session on upper body, then lower body the next. Each session involves some core work and, often, plyometrics (think lots of jumping and sweating). 

Having someone next to you, pushing you farther than you think you can do, definitely helps. When I think I can't do one more rep, he asks for two more. Sometimes three. Being a good student, I oblige. 

I also joined a Biggest Loser-style challenge at work. Participants are divided into teams (we don't know who else is participating) and given weekly challenges. This week's challenge was to ride 20 miles, cumulatively, during the week on the stationary bike, attend two spin classes, or ride 10 miles and attend one spin class.

For someone who's relatively active, it's not a far-reaching challenge. But it's still a good way to focus on getting the workouts in and stay motivated. That's probably why I found myself squeezing in my last five miles on the bike between meetings on Thursday before the snow.

I've often said that running is easier with a buddy. Seems like this 26.2 weight loss challenge will be easier - and more successful - with buddies, too.

Will keep you posted.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Diving Into The 2012 Numbers

Ah, it's that time of year again. No, not the time to face and lay out New Year's resolutions. It's time to dive into my dailymile summary.

I admit I anxiously await this report at the start of each year, with its bright colors, fun graphics and all sorts of analysis of my running and riding life (at least as recorded on dailymile) way beyond what I keep track of during the year.

This year, however, I had an itty-bitty bit of dread as I awaited the report. I knew it was going to show me what I already knew. This past year hasn't measured up to the past two, when it comes to running and riding.

I looked back at my thoughts on my 2011 report. Then I turned my thoughts to how 2012 compared. Wow.

  • I logged 1,321 miles in 2012, compared to 2,529 in 2011. That's 1,208 fewer miles this year. 1,208! 1,208? 1,208!? That's 100 miles a month fewer miles than last year. It almost seems impossible to me. But I know it's right. I knew I dropped back in miles. I guess I just  didn't realize how much my mileage dropped off this year. Certainly my Boston Marathon training miles gave a huge boost to the start of 2011 that I didn't have this year. But, more than that, the fact that my bike spent much more time in my front hallway than on the road contributes to the paltry number of miles I logged this year. 

  • Surprisingly, I logged 10 more workouts (192) than I did last year (182). Obviously, these were much shorter workouts.

  • The average number of miles I logged each week took a deep dive, from 48 miles per week in 2011 to 25 miles per week in 2012.

  • Also taking a nose-dive was the stat showing the number of pounds I burned through logged activities, from 41 pounds burned in 2011 to 26 pounds burned in 2012. That means, all other things being equal, I gained 15 pounds this year. Yup, sounds about right. (Ugh.) What's most interesting about this is that, as I take on this 26.2-pound weight loss journey, I'm struggling with changing my eating habits - or, I should say, struggling with wanting to change. Certainly there's enough there for a whole other post, so I'll jump into more of that at another time. 

  • I had six months of the year in which I logged more than 100 miles (running and riding combined). But 100+ miles a month when you're using two wheels, rather than just two feet, isn't that hard. Even still, it wasn't long ago that I set the standard to run 100 miles a month. What happened? In 2011, I had only three sub-100 months. Interestingly, they were the last three months of the year - which I could credibly argue were just the lead-up to 2012.

  • When I reviewed my 2011 report at this time last year, I noted it was a year of the highest-highs and lowest-lows - with one month topping 700+ miles and one barely reaching 20 miles. This year, I seemed to be more consistent (but consistently low?) and avoided the extreme peaks and valleys. I was surprised to see that my lowest mileage month, December at 31 miles, was higher than 2011's lowest month, also December. 

  • Speaking of consistency, this is what might stand out to me the most on this year's report (aside from 1,208 fewer miles this year?! I mentioned that, right?). Last year, one of the things I wanted to work on was balance. I wasn't talking about balance in running and riding; I wanted to work on the balance between work and life, between running and riding and life. Just general life balance. I think I did that. What's interesting, however, is that it resulted in a huge imbalance in my running and riding. I went from a 56/44  run/bike split last year to a 67/37 run/bike breakdown this year. 

  • When it comes to "Karma"- how much I interacted with my dailymile community - the imbalance is even more stark. In 2011, the split was nearly even. This year, I sent 332 comments, compared to the 1,672 I received. It may be hard to realize why this is important, but the motivation that the dailymile community has given me in previous years is notable - and perhaps a reason that my mileage slacked? I don't know for sure. But I do know that I started to use the site this year more as a place just to log workouts, rather than a place to connect, learn and be inspired.

I give a lot of credit (and thanks) to dailymile for pulling together this report. I've been struggling a lot to figure out the motivation behind these numbers, but being able to see these stats and compare to previous years is a step in the right direction to figure out what happened. But more importantly, to figure out what I want to happen in 2013.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Way For New Year's Resolutions

It's probably no surprise that for the past few weeks my mind's been swirling with resolutions - or, as I prefer to think of them, my goals for the upcoming year.

For the past several years of my running-life, I've laid out specific, track-able goals for running and riding. Things like miles, paces and other black-and-white markers that would tell me whether I succeeded or failed.

For years, I did great at these. Success after success, reaching farther and pushing harder to do things I never thought I could (or would) do. I continued to raise the bar higher and higher.

But the higher the bar got, the less I tried to reach it. I simply stopped thinking about my goals. Somehow - and for a reason I haven't yet figured out - they didn't matter any more. Flat out, I failed.

Last year, I declared a do-over to 2011, as a way to redeem myself for not hitting my mileage goals. This year, I ended the year without even knowing how many miles I logged. I used to know that stuff inside and out. I don't need to tally things up to know that I missed it, again. By a long shot.

So what do I do now? A do-do-over? I certainly can't bear the thought of that.

I think the first thing I need to do is figure out why I'm not hitting the marks any more. Or, I should say, why I'm not trying to hit those marks.

What I do know is that I'm happier, life-wise, than I've ever been. And I love that. I love my life, my career, my wonderful sweetie, our lives together. I honestly have a strong sense of calm and satisfaction when I think about my life.

If I'm so happy with everything else - the important things in life, maybe those mileage goals just don't matter to me anymore? It's a strange thing for me, who's always been driven by goals, track-able things with charts and graphs, to face. I love coming up with a big goal or project and breaking it down into manageable, achievable parts.

So, here I am on New Year's Day, thinking about the upcoming year and the best way to line up my goals. Again. But this year I'm going to try it a little differently.

I'm not going to create my usual checklist of things to do this year. Instead, I'm going to focus on some things I'd like to improve - both for running/riding, but mostly in life.

And this year I'm going to forget about that whole year thing. I'm only focusing on one quarter at a time (I guess that corporate world is rubbing off on me). I'll get through the first quarter of the year, then assess how I've done and adjust, add, edit and delete from as necessary.

That said, here's what I can expect in the first few months of the year.

FITNESS & HEALTH. Instead of specific mileage or pace goals or races on the calendar, I've made a commitment to get fitter. At this point in my life, it means dropping some of the pounds that have added up over the past couple of years. (Hmmm, correlation between not hitting my running/riding goals and added pounds?) In my last post, I declared that I wanted to drop 26.2 pounds - because, hey, I like when I can tie numbers to things. This somehow seemed appropriate. I started this very, very slowly, cutting back on portion sizes and passing on the drinks with dinner. I dropped five pounds, but after a week or so of vacation (and dinners out at fantastic restaurants and, basically, too much holiday cheer), I definitely need to get back on it. I met with a personal trainer and talked about my goal(s). I have my first session on Friday. Yikes!?

BE IN THE MOMENT. I've often prided myself on my ability to multi-task. But even good things can go too far. I've noticed, more and more often, that I'm always trying to do two things (or more!) at once. And, with my attention divided, I often end up missing the moment I'm in. No, I don't need to answer emails while I'm on a conference call. No, I don't need to scroll through Facebook while watching television or check my phone while someone's talking to me. Maybe I'll even just drive during my commute, instead of always using it to return phone calls. It sounds simple enough, but this one with be a tough one for me.

DOLLARS & CENTS. I made good - no, great! - strides in the finances department in 2012. I hit my goal, and then some, to reduce my debt by half. I'm so close to being debt-free that I can taste it. I'll continue to consciously chip away at it and enjoy the light at the end of the tunnel. Along those lines, I think the first part of the year is a good time to focus on finances, in general. Saving a little here, a little there will go a long way to helping us with some of the big plans we have this year.

MISCELLANEOUS STUFF.  Remember that morning workouts are a good thing. Keep up with weekly running dates with my running buddy. Be aware of my posture and sit up straight. Don't text and drive. See friends and family. Work hard. Do things outside. Write more. Just enjoy life. Oh, and do some thinking about why those goals for the past two years didn't work.