Monday, October 7, 2019

On Discipline

I have been thinking a lot about discipline due to triathlon training. For the past several months, have been engaged in almost daily training, and felt a level of guilt when I miss training days. So what motivates me to be so dedicated and disciplined for this, and how can I apply it to other parts of my life? I've come up with three things that I think help with the triathlon discipline, and some examples of how it's helped with other things. It's performance review season at my job while I write this, so I'm thinking some about how it applies there as well.

1) There's An End Date
I think the number one thing that helps my discipline with working out in preparation for the race is that there is an identified end date. I have to be disciplined only up to this point, and a day that I skip is a day that I lose out on and can't make up later - because there's an end date. This can also be described as an exit point. Like when my husband and I were learning to ballroom dance, we took courses ten weeks at a time. At the end of the ten weeks, we'd say, OK, do we sign up for another class, or exit? I think this is most often the problem with commitments, is that we don't make the space to identify evaluation periods and end dates. And without those deadlines, things start to become monotonous and boring and so you skip it, and then your discipline is gone. With regards to performance reviews, setting expectations for someone new on the task - i.e. I need you to work this for at least six months before you make a change - helps set an end date and set expectations, and give you an exit point. It's possible that the end date will come and you'll decide to set a new end date with new goals - like I did my June triathlon and signed up for a September event - but the end date/evaluation point for exit, instead of the long, unending task, makes discipline easier.

 2) It's A Measurable Goal 
Everyone's heard of making measurable goals. A triathlon is the ultimate measurable goal, because you can measure in distance, and in time to complete, and in how you complete it relative to the other athletes, and what you have to do to get closer to the fastest athletes next time. Three ways to be measurable. Measurable goals are the hardest thing in performance coaching at work, because "doing a good job" is not measurable. Trying to get people to see their goals relative to last year (like time in triathlons) or to stretch themselves farther/take on more work (like distance in triathlons) is helpful. I also have started asking "who is someone here that you'd want to be like in five years? What can you do this next year to get one step closer to where they are?" (like trying to be a triathlete who places in the top of your age group). There's a reason my workplace calls it performance "coaching" - because sport is a good metaphor! 
3) Other People Are Involved
I post my triathlon updates to my Instagram stories. I've competed in a race with my friend Dave (though he's significantly faster than I am) and Dave also posts to his Instagram stories. Many of my friends follow me and ask about the training updates. Some of my co-workers are in on it too. This tie to other people is key to keeping me motivated, because I know if I don't, someone will know that I didn't do that thing. This isn't a new theme - I've heard about the power of accountability for years in my evangelical upbringing - but this is something more than accountability because there's an end date (as mentioned) and it's measurable. Also, the people you are involving have to be people you care about, people you won't lie to, and people who encourage rather than discourage you. These relationships are hard to build. They take time. As a supervisor, this is something I have to remember. I've worked for my boss my entire professional career, and I trust him, based on the relationship we've built over five years. I have to work to build that relationship with the people I supervise.

I haven't decided yet if I'm going to do another triathlon. I did three this year, which is two more than I was expecting to do, so I've stretched myself and that made me happy. But I'm achievement driven, and there's another achievement right over that horizon...I just have to swim, bike, and run to get there...stay tuned! 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

On Weight Loss

I saw a photo of myself from five years ago recently and couldn't stop thinking about it, so I wanted to put some thought behind it. I had a conversation with my workout buddy on our recent bike ride around this as well. So here are my thoughts, with some photos sprinkled in to keep it interesting.

When I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school, I was asked to step on a scale in the locker room at my high school and write what I weighed on a worksheet before the fitness challenge at the start of the semester long PE class. The scale was in a semi-private corner, but the number that I had to write (186 lbs) would then be passed to multiple classmates as they tallied how many sit-ups I could do, how many rounds of the pacer I ran, and other things. I wrote it in the lightest possible pencil strokes that I could, because I knew that it was a big number, and then proceeded to compare myself to each of my classmates. My high school arch-rival (who was really a very nice girl - I don't know why I turned things into a competition between us in my head) weighed 116 lbs, and I remember feeling totally awful about the 70 lbs difference between us. I was able to complete the minimum expected fitness challenge for girls my age, but left the class that day feeling shamed, and pretty much vowed that I wouldn't tell anyone what I weighed ever again.

By the time I graduated high school, I weighed 204 lbs. I know this because the week before school, I secretly went into my parents bedroom to step on their scale. I had heard about "the freshman fifteen" and wanted a baseline from before I left for school, but I didn't want anyone to know what my baseline was, because I knew it was fat. And college wasn't helpful with this. While I was in college, I met my now husband, and he kind of danced around the topic. I had avoided scales because I knew it wasn't going to be great, but finally, after spring break of my senior year of undergrad, I agreed to step on a scale and let him see. This was right after I'd gone on a cruise ship with two of my college girlfriends, and I weighed 231 lbs. I cried for hours.

(Above photos from our March 2014 college spring break cruise, and the June 014 triathlon)

The summer after undergrad, my then-boyfriend, now-husband started coaching me in running. I was miserable. It was June, I was hot, and I could barely make it a mile before I had to stop to walk. But we used the couch to 5K program to make it to my first 5K, a color run in November of 2014.  By March of 2015 we were engaged, and I had a wedding date to aim for. By our July 2015 wedding, I had lost the 27 lbs of college weight and was back at 204. And that was good. And then I kind of hit a plateau, where I was still running, but I wasn't losing weight anymore. So I started lying about how much I weighed. I lied to myself, I lied to my spouse, I lied on my driver's license - because I didn't want to weigh more than 200 lbs, so I just docked ten pounds and pretended that'd I'd lose it eventually. I went through cycles of up and down weight loss during these years - up five, down ten, back up again, etc.

(Above photos from the November 2014 color run, and a May 2019 cancer research fundraiser run)

Around the time we got married is the time that my dad's cancer was determined to be "terminal". Through a variety of treatments, he extended his life from summer of 2015 to early summer of 2018, and a lot of things happened for my family in that time, and while I did some runs (my first 10K, etc.) I wasn't especially focused on diet and exercise. I set a goal to do a triathlon in 2018, but never really got motivated and failed to accomplish the goal. Then in May of 2018, my dad got worse and died, and I got a renewed zeal for embracing my own life. It sounds kind of dumb, but when I would go out on a run, I'd feel a renewed vigor because of the fact that I could be out running, that I was still healthy/still alive. My friend Emma set her wedding date for late 2018, and I made a goal - I would stop lying about it and actually be less than 200 lbs by the time Emma got married. Using My fitness pal to track things, by September of 2018 (when Emma got married), I was 196 lbs. Then this year my friend Christina asked me if I'd do a triathlon with her (since she knew about my previous goal). So I started training for that, and I kept tracking fitness pal, and I kept losing weight. By the time we actually competed in our triathlon event (June of 2019) I weighed 175 lbs (and this morning, I weighed 172, so I'm still on a downward trend!).

(Above selfies from March 2014 at Harry Potter World, and June 2019 at Longwood Gardens)

OK, my story is over. Here are some thoughts/points I want to make.

1) Weight loss does not mean you can't eat ice cream. I have lost weight, a lot of weight, but I don't eat different foods (just less). Weight loss doesn't mean depriving yourself. I hate dieting because it's always based on depriving yourself. In the years between 2015 and 2018 I tried deprivation dieting on and off and it always resulted in my crying about how I felt like I couldn't eat what I wanted. So I threw that out and I eat what I want to eat. What I cut out was the "eating because I'm bored" snacking. So before I eat something I ask "why". Am I hungry? good reason. Am I celebrating someone/something? good reason. Am I bored/there's just nothing else to do? Not a good reason.

1) Stop telling people they're fat. I promise you that they already know, and you are likely making it worse. I tell the story about when I was 14 because I decided there was nothing I could do, and just gave up. Most other overweight people I know say the same thing - it feels like what's the point, because even loosing ten pounds (which is a big win!) is such a small part of what they need to loose overall. So if someone overweight tells you they lost weight (even if you can't tell), celebrate it. On my journey from fat to fit, fat-shaming (most of which came from my own head) was my worst enemy. So down with that crap. If they're happy, and healthy (you can be healthy with a few extra pounds on your hips), then "fat" is relative. Technically, according to many standards, I am still overweight. According to the BMI scale (the most popular measure of  "normal") a woman my height should be somewhere between 120-165 lbs. But I am the healthiest I've been in a long time.

2) Tell people when you've seen improvements. This is a sensitive area - don't say "you look like you lost weight" because maybe they haven't actually and then it's awkward. But tell people "you look good!" or "you look fit!" or whatever feels comfortable to you, because the encouragement of buddies has helped me tremendously. My girl friends Christina and Morgan who ran the tri with me, and who cheered me on through social media (Morgan) and in person training together (Christina) and my friend Alec, who has always been the first person to notice and tell me when I've lost weight (partly because he's on a pretty good weight loss journey of his own and we encourage each other). And of course, my husband, who kick-started this whole thing by asking me to be honest with him about what I weigh and loving me anyways when the initial number was much bigger than either of us anticipated, and getting me out in my sneakers, hitting the pavement with him.

(Above photos of Alec and and I at graduation May of 2014 and at WELocal February of 2019)

3) Promote health over numbers. I've put all of the numbers in this blog post because I want to highlight how dramatic the last five years has been for me (so I remember and stick to the patterns I've changed), but if you read the post, you'll see that what really made the change for me in the past year was not focusing on the numbers, but focusing on the fact that I am alive and that I can run and that I wanted to make the most of that. I haven't talked as much about how I changed what I was eating, but you can imagine the difference between college - where you can eat french fries every day - and now, where this summer Ryan and I are focusing on eating local veggies thanks to the Breezy Willow Farms CSA. The food choices were not based on trying to loose weight, but trying to eat better for the sake of the global and local economy - but I'm sure that has made a difference as well. I've mostly stopped the fitness pal calorie counting, but I'm still conscious of choosing things like dried seaweed crisps over potato chips, because it causes my skin to break out less - and the weight benefits of that are a side benefit. So don't stress about the scale, or the calorie count, or any numbers. Go with more days of working out than not working out. Go with more days of home cooked meals than store bought meals. Go with health over numbers, and see what happens. If you don't loose weight, but you feel better, then it's worth it. One of my co-workers has changed his diet, and not really lost weight, but he feels more energy as a result, and I think that's a win too.

This turned out WAY longer than I expected and also ended up touching on Dad's cancer again (I promise, guys, eventually this blog won't mention cancer), but I hope you start a conversation with me about weight loss/exercise/healthy eating based on this long ramble.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What I did on my Summer Vacation

Hello, loyal blog readers! In the past year this blog has turned into either 1) public reflections on grief or 2) me talking about trips I took. Also, 2019 is well on it's way to becoming the least blogged year of the ten plus years I've had this blog (whoops). So in an effort to correct that, even though the summer isn't even half over, I thought I'd write about some of the things I've done on my summer vacations, since those are effectively over for me for the year (there might be a few more beach weekends but my big trips are done).

The first big trip was with my entire family (my nine sibs, my mom, my spouse and my brother-in-law) to my grandmother's timeshare in Williamsburg. This trip was great because it was re-living vacations we had done when I was a kid, and is the first time in I think about ten years that all of my family had all gone on vacation together.

Ryan and I drove up with Jessica and Derek on Saturday after their flight got in and met the rest of the family at the resort. The first day (Sunday) was basically just chill, hangout at the resort day, with some shopping at the outlet malls thrown in for good measure. It was everything our vacations had always been with tennis and board games and pools and it was a great day.

The second day (Monday) we went to Virginia Beach. Ryan and I have decided it's our favorite beach because of how well-swept the sand is there. We did a lot of wave jumping and Ryan buried my youngest sister in sand (and she buried him in sand). After beach my mom had picked a place that was once highlighted on Food Network for dinner, and we all enjoyed a variety of seafood there.


The third day (Tuesday) was the last day Ryan and I were there, and we did another nostalgic trip for me to the Jamestown glasshouse, a fully operational glassblowing facility that is historically recreating how glass was blown in the 1600s based on nearby archaeological ruins. My grandparents used to take me and my siblings to the glasshouse when I was a kid, and it was exactly the same way I remembered it, which made me really happy. There were some exhibits about the different kinds of glass, what different elements you add to make glass different colors, and a gift shop with a whole host of possible purchases that had all been blown by the artisans on previous days. It was SUPER hot at the glasshouse, because the furnaces were going full blast, and generally all around a homeschooling throwback for me.

On our way home Ryan and I saw Toy Story 4 at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (where they serve you dinner in the movie!) and got some Duck Donuts (pictured above) because Duck Donuts has spread outside of NC all the way to Williamsburg. The rest of the family did Busch Gardens amusement park on the days we were back in MD.

Our second trip was for our fourth anniversary to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. We did a lot of hiking, kayaking, and farm visits on this trip, in no particular order. We hiked every morning (when it was sunny), we visited Firefly Farms Creamery & Market, Deep Creek Lavender Farms, Sugar and Spice Amish Bakery, Lakeside Creamery and the Christmas Chalet while it rained, and kayaked in the afternoons after the rain passed us. Also we visited the Oakland B&O Museum which was by far my personal favorite of the whole trip. It's a tiny little museum, only opened since 2013 but working hard to preserve the history of the Oakland B&O station and be a part of the larger B&O museum network. I love trains (a hobby passed from my grandfather and dad) and loved the stories behind this museum's efforts to preserve parts of train history. Because we were there over the 4th, we also got to see the Fireworks on the Mountain display from our hotel window!

Ryan and I have many anniversary traditions - we take a photo of ourselves with the photo from the previous year every anniversary, we eat taco salad and red velvet cake (because that is what was served at our reception) and I try to always get him something corresponding to the traditional anniversary gift for that year (this year it was our linen anniversary). So here are some photos of the food we ate to honor those traditions (red velvet not pictured, as the donuts made a better photo).


Finally, here's a series of photos I'm calling "funny signs seen at Deep Creek". These are from the train museum, the lavender farm and the Christmas Chalet, and they all made me giggle.