Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “paddling”

Getting Fit in 2495 Words

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.

The Klepper.

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.

Baseball, basketball, football, volleyball… No. Yarn balls? YES!

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:

The living room, aka my home gym. No contract, no membership fees.

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:

Motivation.

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.

Beginner’s Mind: Lessons from Laird Hamilton

Books have a way of finding me.  Maybe it’s just my constant state of curiousity that causes me to notice them.  Maybe its the serendipity that follows me like my shadow.  In our lives, there are threads that get tugged and retugged, pulling us in a definite direction as we skip (or tumble or crawl) down life’s path.  I get a lot tugs at my local library, usually as I wander aimlessly down the aisles, my head tilted sideways like a bird, letting my eyes focus and unfocus on the spines and titles as I walk past.  Now and then, a particular book will appear sharply in my view.  It is always just what I need.

One day last year, I found my way to one such book.  I would say that it was an unlikely match—the type of book, that is—but given that I was born in California, land of sun and surf, and have spent every day since my family moved from there yearning to go back to my home, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Perhaps it was just the power of my pining that led me to that shelf, the one where I saw this book:

I stood staring at it, knowing that I had to pick it up, but not having a clue why.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought that surfing was cool.  How can you not?  It’s brilliant.  But why would I read a book about it?  I’m a landlocked 30-something mother of two.  I knit.  I don’t surf.  Hell, I didn’t even know who Laird Hamilton was.   But for all that, I was compelled.  I checked out the book, took it home, started reading, and couldn’t put it down.

This post isn’t meant to be a review, although the book is awesome, and I highly recommend it.   The point is that something in this book really resonated with me.   In the book, Laird talks about the importance of being a beginner and being ok with being bad at something.  He talks about how learning new skills and activities keeps the body and mind in shape.  How it fuels the spirit.  In a sense, Laird, with his infectiously blissed outlook on life, uses surfing (and standup paddling and mountain climbing and everything else) as a model for explaining the beginner’s mind in a way that I not only understood, but immediately felt joyous about implementing in my life.  This is something that years of studying Buddhism never accomplished.   Chalk that up as another point for ecstatic earthiness.  Trying to tame the monkey mind by beating it over the head with hours of stillness and meditation has never worked for me.  A friend once told me, “Move the ass, and the mind will follow.”  Truer words, my friends, truer words.  The way I figure, if Laird Hamilton, a world-class big wave surfer, is ok with being an awkward newbie in his pursuit of learning new things, I can be, too.   Liberation.

So, I read the book in one big gulp, and I tucked away the lessons inside, where they burned like a little fire in my heart of hearts.  I, too, want to be a force of nature!  I, too, want to spend my days under the sun, playing, working, keeping my mind and body nimble by challenging myself to do new things.   It’s easy to get fired up, isn’t it?  But contrary to popular belief, the greatest challenges in life are not the big ones—where the lessons are huge and obvious.  No, it’s the day after the lesson is learned that is the hardest.  And the week after.  And the month after.  Why?  Because it’s really easy to slip into old habits, to get lazy.  It’s like when you have a Really Important Dream… and then you fall back asleep, you lose the details.  We sleepwalk in the tedium of daily life—work, bills, drama, stress—and when we sleepwalk, it’s easy to forget that we have a fire burning in our heart of hearts.  Sleepwalkers cannot tend their inner fires.  It is epically sad to live this way, with nothing to fuel us, nothing to feed our souls.   Which is why we need the Laird Hamiltons of the world to remind us to throw a log on.

Well, I think I’ve found another passion that I’m willing to be a beginner for:  kayaking.

My dad’s had an old Klepper folding sea kayak for years, packed away.  A few years ago he started working on it, making it seaworthy again.  I’ve been fascinated by this process—watching him recraft parts for the boat by hand, resewing seams, sanding and varnishing wood, doing mysterious things with vinyl glue.  I think I was secretly as excited about it as he was.  Then last year he found another used Klepper for sale, which he bought… and gave to me.  Whoa, I was surprised.   This was a gift that carried weight, you know what I mean?  The kind of gift that must be taken seriously.  Because on the outside, a boat is just a boat.  But if you look again, you see that it is archetypal in its symbolism.  It is a vessel, a craft, a means of transportation.   The lines of a boat are something that we, as humans, know innately.  It is almost as familiar to us as the ocean itself.  Suddenly, I possessed something that not only could move me literally, physically, but spiritually, as well.  It felt powerful, meaningful.  And it needed a lot of work.

My dad did some of the repairs before he gave it to me—sewed some seams, replaced some hardware.   We worked on it together the weekend he gave it to me.  We repaired the Hypalon skin where it had been worn through.  We waterproofed areas that had been damaged from use and age (this boat dates to the early 70’s).  He showed me how it all gets put together and what still needed to be done to the boat to make it last.  Then I packed it up in the car and took it home.

And it sat in the garage.  And sat.  And sat .  For months.  I told myself that it was because I didn’t have time to work on it or that the weather wasn’t right—first too cold, then too hot for being outside sanding crossframes and varnishing wood.   But the truth is, this whole time I’ve been thinking, I don’t know shit about kayaks, what am I doing?  I’ve been afraid of jacking up an awesome gift.  Of doing it ALL WRONG.  Of not belonging in the kayaking circle of the universe.   I was so unable to believe in my own abilities to learn something new, something that would be physically challenging, that I let the inertia of doubt take hold.  Then I remembered what Laird said about the importance of being a beginner.  I thought about the fact that it would be far, far worse to let a gift like a freaking sea kayak sit in my garage unused due to fear than to give it a go and make mistakes and be an awkward dork.  And I calmed the hell down.

So we planned a camping trip with my parents at Clearwater Lake last weekend—the perfect motivation to get my ass in gear.  Husband is totally psyched about the kayak, too.  He really wants to work on her and to paddle, and I am happy for both his help and his general awesomeness about everything.  I am excited that this is something that we can do together, as we both feel that we never have enough time together.  This kayaking thing has very quickly become pretty important to us both.

Which means that work must be done.  We completed the first step:  adding keel strips to the Hypalon.  There were lots of places that were worn down to bare canvas on the hull, and my dad and I repaired those.  He suggested a simple fix of using Gorilla tape to put extra protection on the keel.  This would be my first solo task, my first foray into being an amateur boat fixer.  Ok.  It’s just tape.  I could do this.  But first we had to put the boat together.  Have you ever seen all the parts to a folding kayak?  That’s some serious German engineering.

A Klepper folding kayak (mine is an Aerius II) consists of a collapsible wooden frame which gets put together in two sections (bow and stern) and inserted into both the bow and stern ends of the skin before being snapped together to join the two halves.  Then sponsons that run along each side of the boat are inflated to make the skin taut.  And Bob’s your uncle.  You have a seaworthy vessel.  Well, Bob is my uncle.

Bow and stern being put together: keel boards, gunwales, crossframes (ribs) and rods.

Hypalon hull folded next to partially assembled frame.

Boat almost completely assembled—the seats and seat backs are laying next to it in the grass.  Yeah, those things that look like clipboards are the seats.  Very efficient, those Klepper designers.  No comfy seats for you!  Lol.

She’s beautiful.

The frames could use a little sanding and revarnishing, and I’ve already thought of some modifications I’d like to make for both comfort and touring practicality.  But she is ready for the water.  No excuses.  Time to paddle.

Setting up my Klepper, my dad’s Klepper and the Folbot at Clearwater Lake.

Out on the very green water. My son likes to paddle, too.

As it turned out, we cancelled the camping trip in favour of doing a day trip paddling on the lake.  It was way too hot—104 degrees!  Really ridiculously hot.  But we all wanted to paddle.  And once we were on the lake, it was actually quite pleasant.  The Klepper handled well.  She won’t turn on a dime, but she’s very stable as a sea kayak should be.  I don’t have a sailing kit for her, but I’m hoping to add that some time in the future.  My dad sails his Klepper, and it’s pretty awesome.  Later I paddled with my dad in his boat, and we saw dozens of blue herons out on the water.  And I realized that I intensely dislike the noise of loud motorboats.  When you’re in your groove, paddling silently through the water, listening to the birds and the insects and the rippling waves, and a speed boat cruises by, it really jacks up the atmosphere.   On the upside, I like the wakes.  ;)

Husband was a rockstar, and totally hossed out both putting together and packing away the boats in the heat.  I had a case of the vapors at one point, but managed to bully through.  I’ve never drank so much water in such a short period of time.  I am really looking forward to the weather becoming more humane.

Husband and I are already working out a plan for kayaking regularly.  We’ve also set a goal for ourselves—next year we want to paddle the MR340.  Daunting?  Yes.  Doable?  I think so.  We’ll have to bust our asses getting ready, but that is the point.  We’re both pushing 40, and neither one of us wants to age by way of complacency.  I believe firmly that we can remain fit and healthy and energetic as long as we keep moving and keep challenging ourselves.   So, thank you, Laird Hamilton.   You’ve taught me an important lesson.  I will revel in my beginnerness.  I will play and have fun and live passionately according to my true nature, as a force of nature.  Awkward or not, I will learn mad skillz and do awesome things.

Edit:  Just found this gem.  Laird and Gabby on TEDMED.

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