Goal: Husband and I have decided to race the MR340 next year.
This is a crazy race: paddle 340 miles of the Missouri River, from Kansas City to St. Charles, in 88 hours or less. It’s really hard, and people who are serious about it train really hard. Everyone else just hopes to finish at all. Time to start training. For realz.
Hurdle #1: I am the antithesis of athletic.
Hi, my name is dre, and I’m a 38 year old mother of 2. I homeschool my kids and work nights as a waiter. I knit, dye yarn, garden, and watch old British tv shows. When I grow up, I want to be Felicity Kendal in Rosemary & Thyme. I’ve never done anything like this before. I have no athletic abilities. My sports experience includes swim team and volleyball… in middle school. I did train horses for a long time in high school and college, but that’s really a different animal altogether, what with the horse doing most of the work and all. Aside from a tiny little bit of fencing I did with Husband in my early twenties, the closest I’ve come to anything remotely athletic was chasing and hoisting toddlers a decade ago. I am not kinesthetically gifted like my husband is, and my awareness of my body in space is non-existent. I am frequently clumsy and occasionally asthmatic. I lack self-discipline. I get distracted easily (I forgot I was making the kids lunch while typing this paragraph and almost burned the rice). I have always been fairly strong—growing up on a farm will do that to you, but I’ve never been super fit. In my thirties I haven’t even approached kinda fit.
Hurdle #2: I’ve had a lot of health issues over the last decade that have taken way too much of my time and energy.
For ages, Husband has been trying to get me to be more physically active. In his wise way, he knew that it would help me feel better. See, I’ve not been well for quite a while. That’s a long ass post for another day, but suffice it to say that when you don’t feel well, exercising is the furthest thing from your mind—even if it’s one of the things that will feel you better. So much energy went into my illness(es) and into trying to fix me, that I convinced myself I had none to spare for something as seemingly frivolous as working out. Sometimes I haz a stupid.
Solution #1: Healing the body, even a little bit, frees up energy for action.
In December, a major piece of the puzzle concerning a longstanding illness fell into place, and by January, I was feeling like a new person. One day while driving to work, I passed a billboard that advertised a membership to a nearby gym for only $20 a month. One of those “New Year’s resolution” memberships. I thought about it that whole night at work, and realized that it was time to start taking care of my body in a new way.
Solution #2: A body active is a body healthier.
I signed up. That was the beginning of a whole new journey for me, a new process to learn. One that I want to keep track of here. My first day at the gym was with a complimentary training session with a personal trainer. I’m going to post the numbers here in all their glory, not only because I’m proud of how well I’m doing, but also because I think it is incredibly important for all of you to understand that if I can change my eating habits, start challenging my body and become more fit, you absolutely can, too. Here are the numbers from when I started out:
Height: 5’3″ Weight: 165 Shoulders: 45.5″ Chest: 38″ Waist: 33.75″ Hips: 42.75″ Thigh: 20.5″ Arm: 10.5″ BF%: 35.9
Pre-pregnancy, I weighed 120 lbs no matter what I ate. Post pregnancy averaged around 145 lbs. This was the highest I’d been since right after I gave birth. Twelve years ago. Ouch.
Hurdle #3: Bumpy starts are bumpy.
The trainer showed me how to use all the equipment, namely all the weight machines. I’ve since learned that this is standard cookie cutter gym protocol, so watch out for it. It became apparent very quickly that those machines are not designed for short people. The pivot points are all in the wrong places, and there was no way to adjust the machine enough to correct this issue. This discrepancy in sizing meant that a stupid amount of torque was placed on joints, and it hurt. Not in a “feel the burn” kind of way, either. It was frustrating and discouraging. I already felt super out of place in the gym. This wasn’t helping.
Solution #3: When something doesn’t work, don’t quit— fix it!
So when I met with the trainer for a follow up appointment a couple weeks later, I asked her to show me exercises that did not involve the machines, and this is when she lit up. Want to know what she showed me? KETTLEBELLS. All caps. Kettlebells rocked my world! Finally, here was something that I could get into. Kari Syme at Eclectic Kettlebell has a great post on why you should train with kettlebells. Kettlebells immediately challenged me—but in a way that I could build up to. I appreciated the functionality of the exercises, and the fact that it required me to use my whole body, not just isolated muscles. Kettlebell training makes you stronger for the real world, for daily life. And I saw my strength, balance, and flexibility grow quickly.
This new-found, first-in-a-lifetime excitement for exercise got me researching more types of functional exercises. I found a few great sites that have become my go-to sources for all information regarding fitness. Two of them are Angry Trainer Fitness and FitStudio. Alfonso Moretti, the Angry Trainer, tells it like it is. He is a personal trainer and body builder and has made it his life’s work to know all the ins and outs of nutrition and fitness. His site is loaded with interesting articles on all kinds of fitness topics, but my favorites are his how-to videos where he teaches proper form on common exercises and his exercise videos where he shows you exercises that will kick your butt and keep you from getting bored. Srsly. Find the “10 ways to do burpees” video and the one where he shows you how to do bird dogs. Bird dogs changed my life. Six months ago, I would have laughed if somebody said I would be typing that now. I used FitStudio’s free video glossary of exercises to learn a bunch of new moves to try. These clips are all about 30 seconds long, and are a great way to cross-reference exercises when you read other websites and have no idea what the trainer is talking about. Hey, not everybody knows what a rear delt row is. (raises hand)
Two other websites that really helped me out were Bodyrock TV and Zuzana Light’s Youtube channel. Now, a fair warning—both of these are very… boobcentric. By which I mean, they really use “visuals” (wink, wink) to get people to watch. It’s pretty off-putting, because on the surface it’s more about T & A than workouts. However, if you have it in you to look past that, the workouts are good with lots of creative circuit sets. I no longer have the time or energy to wade through the all that to get to the workouts, so I’ve stopped using both sites. I think it’s unfortunate. I learned a lot about bodyweight exercise by watching Lisa Marie on Bodyrock. She is infectiously cheerful and encouraging—which just doesn’t fit with the rest of the image the website is using which is pretty bow-chicka-wocka-bow, if you know what I mean. So in the end, I feel like I don’t know what they’re actually trying to be about. But despite all that, it was Bodyrock that got me into using bodyweight exercises, and for that I’m thankful. I just wish I didn’t have to turn it off when the kids come in the room. :/ Zuzana was the original host (and part-founder) of Bodyrock TV, but has since left to host her own Youtube channel called ZWOW. She is awesome—friendly, engaging, and encouraging. And her form kicks ass. When she started ZWOW, I thought it was going to be something new and different, but it seems that she’s going to keep doing the whole Bodyrock type thing, too. Whatevs. You can still learn some fantastic exercises that require very little equipment. And with both of these you have the advantage of getting new workouts daily for free and being able to pause and rewind them as many times as you need to. Totally do-able. The lesson here is to be able to take what you need and walk away from the rest.
So, armed with an arsenal of bodyweight and kettlebell exercises, I started working out 5 days a week. Because of my schedule, I could only go after work—usually around 11pm. I also started adding in some HIIT training. High Intensity Interval Training is a method used typically with running that involves walking or jogging at an easy pace for a specified period of time, and then running balls out for that same period of time, all for maximum total time of 20-30 minutes. HIIT training helps achieve conditioning much more effectively and in less time than longer, slower paced runs. I started this method because I heard that it was particularly good at helping to build lung strength. As an occasional asthmatic (chief triggers are cats and exercise), I really needed help in this department. So, I started by walking for a minute and then running for a minute, for 20 minutes. I did this 3 times a week. Very quickly I was able to increase my speed until I jogged at 4mph and then ran at 7 mph for the intervals. Dude, this was a major achievement. Until this point, I was of the steadfast opinion that running is something you do to save your life. It is not done voluntarily. HIIT training taught me to love running. Mostly. And my lungs loved it, too. I saw significant improvements in my tolerance and capacity.
Finally, as an experiment I also started monitoring my diet on Fitday, a free dietary system that helps you keep track of caloric and nutritional intake as well as weight goals. It is highly customizable, and I found it incredibly helpful in educating me about my daily intake values and my portion sizes. A real eye-opener. I’m not going to lie, it’s a pain to keep track of every bite you eat—even with a computer program, but I approached it as an experiment. I really wanted to see if my caloric intake was way off or not. So I limited my calories to between 1300-1500 calories a day. I ate foods that would get me to 100% or over of my daily RDA values for vitamins and minerals. That was the hardest part. But I really worked at this.
The results? After 3 months, I was stronger, more flexible, and more comfortable in my body. I was more knowledgeable about nutrient dense foods and how to eat in appropriate portions. But after 3 months of working out 5 days a week and eating a restricted caloric intake, I’d only lost 10 pounds. I was happy for that 10 pounds, but still, it pointed to something in the equation being off.
Not so much a hurdle as a brick wall: When your body talks, listen or pay the price.
And then I hit a super stressful couple weeks in May. Isn’t it crazy how a little bit of stress will derail you? I ate all the wrong things for me: wheat, dairy, sugar… These foods have been on my verboten list for years. It was stupid, and I paid the price. I got really, really sick. Like, my body threw in the towel. So I said, that’s it. No more playing around with my diet. It was time to listen to my body.
Solution to brick walls: Sometimes you’ve got to turn in a whole new direction.
I’ve known for a long time that a number of my health issues either start with or are exacerbated by food intolerances. I’ve researched and experimented with this for years, with many frustrations and a few successes. But it’s hard changing your diet, especially when you seem to have a bit of a threshold. Well, my threshold went down the tube in May. It was time to take things seriously and to do what my doctor advised several years ago. So I went Paleo-ish. I cut out all grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar. Now I eat lean meats, healthy fats, tons of greens and veg, and a healthy amount of fruit, nuts, and seeds. And I started feeling better. I stopped counting calories, which is awesome, because as informative as that was, it was also unpleasant. It’s not healthy to obsess over every bite you put in your mouth. Now, I eat like a hoss—as much of these whole foods as it takes to satisfy my hunger. It’s wonderful. I feel good.
A little over a month later, in June, I met with the trainer again for a follow up, and here were the results:
Weight: 145 lbs Shoulders: 41″ Chest: 36″ Waist: 30.5″ Hips: 41″ Arms” 10″ Thigh: 19.5″ BF%: 32
That’s 20 lbs down, and 10 of it after I went Paleo! And a bunch of inches!
Then, I quit the gym.
Hurdle #4: Timing.
Turns out that training late at night sucks for me. It was jacking up my sleep and taking away family time that I wasn’t willing to part with any longer. It would have been easy to quit at this point. But I’d developed some self-discipline with all this working out. Bonus!
Solution #4: Location, location, location.
I started working out at home. That’s right, in the comfort of my own living room! Lol. But it turns out that when you’re doing functional and bodyweight exercises, you don’t need a lot of room or equipment. You just need a floor and your body. That’s it. No excuses. I’ll prove it. Here’s where I work out now:
All caught up to speed.
My measurements as of this morning:
Weight: 138 lbs Shoulders: 40″ Chest: 36″ Waist: 30″ Hips: 39.5″ Thigh: 19″ Arms: Hard to measure by yourself BF%: couldn’t measure
I think this is proof that the Paleo helping. There have been challenges, which I’ll talk about specifically later, but overall I’ve seen major improvements over the last 2.5 months. I’ll admit, over the last month or so, I slacked off in working out. Which is to say, I didn’t work out. This happens. But I’m back on track, and now that I have the goal of paddling the MR340, I am more dedicated than ever to getting in shape. When the burpee squats are kicking my ass, and I want to quit, I look up and remember what I’m doing this for now:
For most of my life, I’ve been unhappy with my body, unhappy with my level of fitness. But I always had excuses. Not enough time, not enough money for a gym, not the right equipment, too stressed out, too fat to work out, exercise is boring… I justified my inactivity any way I could. The thing is, that the only way to get fit is to do it. One burpee at a time. One sit-up at a time. One jumping jack at a time. Whatever you can do, DO IT! That’s how you get in shape. You start by walking, you end by running. And your body will thank you with every step, with every heartbeat, with every breath.