Tag Archives: fitness

Running Fast


I run more than I used to. And much faster.


For the longest time, I had a set running scheme. Twenty jumping jacks, hop on the treadmill, start at 6.4 speed, increase the speed one tenth every half mile for two miles, slow back down to 6.4 for the third mile, speed up a decimal every quarter mile until I hit mile 3, then speed up to 7.0 until I got to 3.11 miles, or a 5k. Stop. Stretch.


I’ve always been sluggish. I’ve never been quick on my feet. My legs are disproportionately short and squat compared to my longer, leaner torso. I’m not built for speed. I was proud of my nine-to-ten minute miles, since 7th grade me could barely puff out a mile in 14 minutes and always had to stop and walk.


Then I had a conversation with one of our church teens. He’s a he, considerably taller than me, with long skinny legs and long flailing arms. He attends the school I attended when I was a teenager, and one of the features of their physical education program (as is the case with every phys. ed. program) is a regularly scheduled timed (and graded) mile run. We were comparing mile times; I rather proudly told him I could run a mile in about nine minutes.


He looked at me in wonder. “Nine minutes?” he said, almost pityingly. “That’s like, a D.”


Even though I know this boy well enough to know that he would never intend to hurt, I broke a little inside. I had worked hard for several years to get that fast. I was only able to make it to the three-mile mark in the last four years (my first time was when I was 20). I have managed very well for a person who is not genetically predisposed to athleticism. I’ve rarely even experienced “runner’s high”—running doesn’t feel good until I’m finished running. The act of running isn’t very fun, but it’s the most straightforward thing I’ve figured out to do that helps me stay healthy. As someone with no coordination, questionable depth perception, and a visceral aversion to group activities, sports are a significantly less enjoyable fitness option. Yoga, though and fun and challenging alternative, doesn’t get my heart rate up. I love feeling my heart thud confidently through the miles; I love the feeling of my springy knees; I love coming to the end of a few miles knowing I earned the warmth radiating from and through my muscles. So I run. Not fast. Just determinedly, and consistently: at least five times a week at varying distances.


I wasn’t about to take anyone’s pity for not being able to run fast. The following Monday, I started a mile at my usual finishing pace (7.0, or about an 8.75-minute mile) and sped up a bit every minute. I surprised myself with my first 8.25-minute mile.


Of course, I couldn’t let myself stop there. I had to get faster, and I had to be faster over longer distances. I kept my established pattern for 5ks, but kept increasing my starting speed. I would do 2-mile interval runs, alternating a minute of sprinting with a minute of running at an easier pace until I reached 2 miles, always finishing at my maximum speed. I would run a mile at a time, going as fast as my legs and lungs could carry me. I supplemented with weighted leg exercises, like squat jumps and calf raises and walking lunges and many, many more. I would choose my pre-run meals carefully, making sure that I would be full but not too full and sufficiently carbed up for my fastest and easiest pace.


Soon I could run 2 miles in 16 minutes, which quickly shrank to 2 miles in 15:23. My 5k time went down from 28 minutes to 25 and change. Occasionally I can go for 4 miles without killing myself (although my feet have taken a beating).


This week, I ran a 5k in my shortest time ever: 23 minutes and 58 seconds, or about 7 minutes and 45 seconds per mile. Today I ran 4 miles at an easier pace of about 8.5 minutes per mile, finishing in 32 minutes and 43 seconds.


All of this information is, I understand, more or less meaningless statistics on a runner who will probably never run in any race longer than a 5k. I realize that there are hundreds if not thousands of people out there who can run much faster than me and who probably think a 7:45 mile is embarrassingly slow. I understand that, so laugh all you like.


But I am proud of myself. I am fast, sort of. And I am getting faster.




I’d be so skinny if it weren’t for all the food.

I’m an active person. I work out five days a week, six during the school year and I need to unwind a bit on Saturdays.  Running and weightlifting and stretching. Intervals. Bodyweight stuff. Yoga. I’m like a cat in a puddle of sunshine in terms of activity for all the hours of the day spent not in a gym, but for that one hour I am in the gym, I’m a machine. I’m on fire. I’ve shaved about five minutes off of my average 5k time in the last three months. I run about 10 miles a week. I can hammer curl 15 pounds and do 20 full-body pushups in a row without collapsing. I am a firm believer in a daily minute-long plank. I limp after leg day.

Yet, in spite of my herculean efforts in the gym, I’m encased in a lingering layer of comfortable fluff. Mostly in the sitting region. And, as I age, more around my waistley region. There’s a roll or two (or three) present when I sit down. I’ve got my fair share of cellulite and stretchmarks. There’s nothing remotely fitness modelish about me, and there never will be.

For the most part, I enjoy being stronger and faster than I’ve ever been so much that I don’t notice the persistent fluffiness, and even if I do, I don’t let it annoy me. After all, my diet is more conducive to weight maintenance than loss.

I eat healthy, too. I make everything myself. I eat mostly veggies and fruit with some meat and grains. I drink water, coffee, and fruit juice in moderation.


People keep giving me dessert.

Okay, there keeps being dessert available and I keep eating it.

Because dessert is delicious.

Because whoever came up with the phrase “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” clearly has never had my mother’s homemade chocolate cake. Or my peach pie, for that matter. Or, well, food.

But all things should be consumed in moderation.  Including dessert. Especially dessert.

I keep telling myself I’m going to go off dessert for a while. No sweets but dark chocolate (because it’s good for me). I feel much better, have more energy, and run faster when I cut back on the sweets.

The trouble with this plan is that all seasons are eating seasons. Let me explain. All seasons have some sort of treat that I absolutely must have (or absolutely will encounter and be unable to resist) at least once while that season lasts.

Spring: chocolate cake (for my birthday), cake at all the graduation parties and weddings, Easter candy.

Summer: peach pie, peach ice cream, ice cream in general.

Fall: pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes, Dunkin Donuts’ pumpkin cake doughnuts, pumpkin everything, if there’s pumpkin in it I want it, also apple pie. And Halloween candy.

Winter: baked chocolate pudding, Christmas cookies and other miscellaneous goodies.

My fitness life is a cycle of nibbling away at treats I love every season and not being given adequate time to detox before another season of deliciousness strikes me in the core (and the thighs and the tush and, well, you get the picture).

To make matter worse, I work an office job. There is always baked stuff. Our department has a doughnut fund. I have a hard time saying no to doughnuts.

Life is too short not to enjoy the sweet things. Even if it’s not very dietarily responsible.

So as long as there are seasons, there will be sweets, and as long as there are sweets, I’m going to be fluffy.

Oh, well. Pass the cookies. I’ll run an extra mile.

Hitting the Road


Our week of teaching is over. I’m tempted to say that it’s all downhill from here, but this is Croatia, where surprises wait around every corner and occasionally point radar guns at you.

Tomorrow we go hiking. Transporting eleven people in a nine passenger van has proven an interesting juggling challenge, but we’ve thrown an extra van into the mix to carry the two extra. Now, if we can just keep from being pulled over to have our papers checked by the friendly neighborhood policija we’ll be in good shape.

I will be glad for the exercise. I’ve not had or made the time to go running or do yoga. I feel like a hippo with gland problems. But tomorrow we;ll be hiking for hours, so I’ve got a lot of exercise to look forward to.

On to sleep, and to peaceful dreams. So long as my alarm gets me up in the morning.




Today made two things inescapably clear: one, God is indeed involved in the little details of our lives; two, God always gives us what we need.

This is the part where I try to segue gracefully into a personal anecdote that illustrates my point. I’ll skip to the anecdote.

I enjoy working out. Yes, I’m always a bit miserable while I’m sweating away on a treadmill or elliptical trainer, but the feeling that comes afterwards, the feeling of having taken good care of the body God put me in, is very relieving. I feel exercising is part of my responsibility as a human being to take care of myself. Plus, it relieves stress, and we all know how much help I need in that department.

Undisclosed University has a well-equipped fitness center that I’ve used on a regular basis every summer since I was fifteen. The only thing regular about it, however, is the irregularity of its operating hours, especially at the beginning of a school year. Normally when I go during the school year, it’s open from 6 in the morning to 9 at night, or thereabouts.

Today, it was closed. At least, it was closed when I had time to go by.

I had gone back to my room, changed out of class dress into sweats and a tank top, threw on a jacket and ran over to grab a machine as quickly as I could. Someone brought cookie cake to work today.

But the door was locked. There was to be no working out for me today.

So, begrudgingly, I trudged back to my dorm, wondering if I could do enough lunges to justify a full workout. Once I got back to my room, I put on some peppy music and started dropping into the usual routine of stretching and what have you.

Then my roommate walked in.

Normally, working out in your dorm room is considered to be a bit of a faux pas. When my roommate walked in, I assumed then and there that all opportunity for working out was over, and I would just have to settle my flabby self into a chair and surrender to inactivity.

I explained to her my situation (and, by extension, why I was practically upside down and in sweats and a tank top and tennis shoes). She looked at me, her face the expression of delight, and said,

“Oh, good! I was hoping to work out right now, too! Have you ever done pilates?”

Turns out that she was planning on working out in the room, and had been afraid of what I  would think of her. Imagine our shared delight when we figured out that we could do the same weird thing and the same time with the same degree of passion and not feel embarrassed about it at all.

No, I had never done pilates until today. I thought it was kind of a wimpy, halfhearted attempt exercise—that the real fitness junkies would do things like heavy cardo or weight lifting. Today I learned that pilates is not at all for the faint of heart, and I will be very, very sore tomorrow.

I sure I could have foregone a day of exercise without any major consequences. It wouldn’t have killed me to do something else instead. But I was stressed and hot and tired and I think that the Lord knew I needed to do something, anything, to get me going and feeling healthy again. So He gave me a roommate with a pilates DVD, which is now sitting on her bookshelf, available for whenever I might need it.

My God is a big God. He spoke the spheres into existence. He speaks, and storms lie still like obedient Labradors. He spins the universe like a top, yet maintains its delicate balance with a thought. But this big, all-powerful God cares about the little things.

It’s a little thing. It’s a little, tiny luxury, the ability to exercise. I wouldn’t die without it. But God cared enough about the little things in my life to make sure I could get in the exercise that I thought I needed.  

I stand amazed.


Domino Effect


There is a perfectly logical reason as to why I am sleeping in my running clothes.

I only have the time to go running on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is one of the final two rehearsals of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before opening night next Monday. Normally I go running immediately after my last class, which ends at 2:50. However, tomorrow I have an appointment at 3:00 to rehearse with my duo partner for acting class. Rehearsal starts at 6:30—probably earlier—and the time it takes to run, stretch, shower, and eat is at minimum one and a half hours. If I waited until four to run, then I would not be done until 5:30, and for all I know that’s when we’re starting rehearsal. So because I am rehearsing at 3, I will not get to run tomorrow unless I run in the morning.

Using the same measurement of 1.5 hours of running/stretch/shower time, if I’m going to get in the maximum amount of acting practice time in before going to my 10:00 class, as well as having my daily time with God (which, I find, is best done in the morning when things are quiet), then I need to hit the treadmill at precisely 7:00.

This means I need to roll out of bed at 6:45. If I sleep in my running clothes (sans shoes), I can sleep five more minutes and not have to get up until 6:50, which gives me time to walk to the gym and fill my 32 oz. water bottle.

This also implies that if I plan on getting a full night’s sleep of seven glorious hours, then I need to hit the hay as soon as possible. It is currently 11:19.

In summary (and to prove that I have a point other than to give you an obnoxiously detailed description of how tomorrow will hopefully run), because of an alteration in my afternoon schedule, I will have to get up and run first thing in the morning: a task which will be easier if I don’t have to fumble around in the dark of early morning for my running clothes.

(Really all that’s happening here is that I’m trying to save myself five minutes. But when it comes to sleep, every. Second. Counts.)

My real point: humans can’t be two places at once. If they could, life would be a lot easier. But we can’t, so it isn’t. We have been given only so much time every day, and we can shift our location but we can’t shift time. The minute someone figures out how to do that, let me know, because it would really come in handy.

It’s not much of a point, but it will have to do. For now.

Help, My Clothes are Shrinking


October, November, and December have one thing in common: holidays directly associated with tons of food.

Think about it. October has Halloween, which means cheap chocolate in little bite-sized packages that somehow make it easier to justify eating a truckload of them.

November has Thanksgiving, in which there is turkey and dressing and ten different varieties of cooked sweet potatoes and yeast rolls and cranberry sauce and pumpkin everything. It’s a national excuse to eat more food than is good for you on one day.

Then there’s December, with its beautiful Christmas season. Note I did not just say “Christmas,” but “Christmas season.” That tallies up to over a month of feeling completely justified in consuming whatever treats are brought by your coworkers. If we could have our way, the spirit of the season would burn more calories than running a marathon a day.

Trouble is, it doesn’t. And by January, we have to suck in just to pull our running shorts on.

The bright side is (and there’s always a bright side) that the extra pounds help keep us warm in winter. I almost deliberately eat a little more just to keep from being as cold as I might be otherwise. Then I go running and think, hey, it’ll balance out, right?


Cheers, everyone. Good luck with the leftover Halloween candy.


Low-Carb Air


North Carolina is generally known to be a state of granola-crunching tree huggers who hike a lot. With rolling mountain ranges and an increasing population of crunchy people, the people here are generally fitter and tanner then those back home. Every corner has a health food store, every Subaru has a bike rack complete with actual bikes, and people wear their running shoes constantly. You can usually tell who the tourists are because they’re the ones wearing anything bigger than a size 4.

But just about anyone up here is bound to be healthier than the average lowlander, simply because the air is so stinkin’ thin.

I’ve heard that they send professional athletes to train on the tops of mountains to boost endurance. Once they get used to performing with so little oxygen, competing in an environment where they can actually breathe should be a cinch.

When I try to run up here, I usually get discouraged that I can’t go nearly as far. Then I remind myself that I can’t go as far because I can’t breathe, and I feel better. Even going upstairs is a bit of a challenge.

Could someone more knowledgeable than I tell me if thin air can be responsible for increased hunger? Because for whatever reason, I can’t seem to get full.

But even though the air is thin, it’s crisp, fresh, and untouched by the pollutants I’m used to. Just breathing up here is invigorating.

That may be because it takes twice as much energy as usual just to get a decent breath…

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff



It seems like a lot of people run these days. Runners are everywhere, trotting up and down streets in shorts and tennis shoes, some svelter than others, men and women and many different ages.

Some are clearly trying to get in shape after having not been for a while. Most have the grace not to wear shorts. Others don’t. But they are determined. I want to drive past them, windows down, speakers blaring “Eye of the Tiger” and throw confetti on them as they run. People who decide to make a change deserve a little encouragement.

Inexplicably, there are these silver-haired, sixty-year-old men who are clearly in better shape than I have been in my entire life. They deserve to wear shorts, and few can justify running around without a shirt (though I don’t necessarily endorse that behavior), biceps glistening with sweat as they run along as if they aren’t even thinking about it. It’s evident that men like this have been running since elementary school and haven’t stopped. Chances are their former-junior-leaguer brides have their protein shakes ready for them when they come panting into the kitchen at the end of a run.

For whatever reason, I have selected running as my torture exercise of choice. Even though I hated in in high school and junior high, I couldn’t deny that I the longer I run, the skinnier I get. So I still run. It’s not an obsession. I couldn’t eve really call it a hobby. But I try to run as far as I can without collapsing. So far two miles is my limit. Yes. Two miles. After years of trying, two miles is as far as I can go without stopping.

My dad was a runner—a real runner—years ago. He’d run for miles at t time. He loved it. He was sad when he couldn’t. He talked about this thing called “runner’s high.” Apparently this mystic state happens when you’ve run a few miles and all of a sudden it doesn’t hurt anymore and you can enjoy the rest of your run more or less on autopilot.

I’ve never gotten there. My dad ran like race horse. I run like a hippo with a gland problem. I probably look like one, too. I huff and puff and wheeze and stumble along. Running just hurts. Always has. Probably always will. But it keeps me healthy, and that’s the important thing, right?


The Word You’re Looking For is “Ow”


Most normal people make New Year’s resolutions. A new year, a new diet, a new weight loss plan, a new exercise routine, a new wardrobe, etc., etc. Noble ambitions always begin at the beginning of the year. For normal people.

But most normal people aren’t students.

Any resolution we have, it gets taken care of during the summer. We don’t have time otherwise. School eats everything.

I always begin the year with noble ambitions of losing weight, working on The Book, committing to a journal, and a whole host of other things. But then homework happens. And nothing else gets done.

Therefore, I and a lot of other full-time students that I know have many goals for the summer. One of mine—as it goes with every summer—is to lose weight and get back in shape. I don’t look too bad right now, but I want to feel healthy again.

So I’m guzzling a gallon of water a day. I’m back to salads and protein shakes. An hour of running and weight machines four days a week. Sit-ups, stretches, curls, presses, lifts, you name it.

And after two days of this, I’m face-to-face with the grisly fact that I am horribly, horribly out of shape.

Everything aches. Everything. Shoulders. Stomach. Back. Thighs. Calves. Pectorals. Every. Blessed. Thing.

But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that after three months of hard work and personal discipline, I can be back on track. Lean, mean, and ready to face the school year.

So I can repeat the cycle once again.

Pass the almonds.