Sunday, January 22, 2012

Channeling My Inner Kenyan/Polar Bear...Or Maybe Just the Polar Bear Part...

"One thing I know for sure is, you can't force the issue. If someone wants to lose weight, they will do whatever it takes. They can't do it for anybody but themselves. It has to be for them alone. Without this understanding, they will fail." ~Jennifer Hudson

This quote comes from a book called "I Got This", which I almost bought while shopping today. It's Jennifer Hudson's story of how she lost 80 pounds on Weight Watchers and has worked on maintaining a healthy lifestyle for herself and her family. I just happened to open up to the chapter where she wrote those words, and they really rang true for me, because I think the exact same thing all the time. I remember being in that position myself not too long ago. When you're really heavy and struggling to make those changes that you know are necessary, the last thing you want is to be nagged about it, especially by the people you love the most.

When I think back on my own turning point, I can't think of a very specific moment where I thought "This is it, this is what I'm going to do". There was a lot of concern from my family, especially my mom, but that isn't what truly made the difference. It couldn't be. I couldn't resolve to spend hours at the gym and change my eating habits because it would make my family happy. I couldn't do it because maybe guys would like me more if I was thin. I had to do it for myself, period, because while I was sweating away those extra pounds, making the decision to bypass that greasy pizza, or resolving to squeeze in "just one more mile", it's not as if my mother was standing right there to make sure I did what I said I would do. Very often, it was just me and the treadmill, or me standing alone in the ice cream aisle at the store, faced with the choice to be strong or give into that weakness. You have the freedom to overindulge at McDonalds or pack a healthy lunch from home, and as an adult, nobody is going to tell you no if you want to make the less healthy decision...that is, unless you tell yourself no. It's a difficult lesson to learn, and there are always days when you don't go down the best road. Even now, after losing 150 pounds, I still have a lot of ups and downs, but I have realized that I am completely in control of what happens to my body, and that motivates me to make good choices as often as I can.

These days, running is one of the greatest things I can choose to spend my spare time, and at the end of the day, it's something I never regret doing for my health. Yesterday, I ran the inaugural Chicago Polar Dash downtown, and while it was definitely the coldest 13.1 miles I ever had to complete, it was a great race all around, and I'm glad I dragged myself out of bed to get out there on a Saturday morning. This post has already gotten a little longer than I was hoping, so I'll just go through some of the highlights of the race now, because for me, it's always fun to look back on a fun day :)

1. I finished the half marathon in 2:46, which is a good ten minutes behind my usual time for 13 miles. That was a little disappointing, but with all the snow, slush and ice, it was definitely expected. I'm pretty sure almost everyone adjusted their times accordingly to avoid unnecessary injury. I made up my mind early on that this was just going to be fun. With all that white powder on the ground, frigid temperatures and lake effect snow, it was a true "Polar Dash", and that's what we all signed up for with this race, so personally, I loved it. I ran slow and steady, stopped to take my energy gels when needed, and when I had to stop at mile 12 to use the bathroom, I didn't worry about the effect it would have on my finish time. This was a day to enjoy and experience something I love in an environment that I never ran in before, and I can honestly say that I had an awesome time. As my mom pointed out, the whole reason to do this is to have fun and reap the health benefits that come with it.
2. One of the highlights of the day was running into Jim and Mandy, two college friends whom I haven't seen in maybe seven or eight years. This was a really long time ago, when I was still attending WIU, and they were the ones who actually spotted me in the crowd at the start line! Mandy is the amazing mother of five children who devotes time to her family while still finding time to do something positive for her health (running), and her husband Jim was there to support her. He even proposed to her when she crossed the finish line (15 minutes ahead of me...not that I'm bitter or anything, haha), despite the fact that they've been married for six years! It's always great to bump into old friends and be reassured that you're not the only one crazy enough to run 13.1 miles in the freezing snow on a Saturday morning!
3. For safety reasons that involved having a clearly shoveled path, the course was changed at the last minute on race day. Runners had the option of doing either a 10K (a little over 6 miles) or the half marathon. What happened is that the 10K and half marathoners crossed the finish line at exactly the same time, and while there was a specific lane for the 10K'ers to finish, the rest of us went right through the start line again and repeated almost the exact same course for the second portion of the half marathon. It was definitely weird having to do the same thing twice, but at the same time, it was kind of nice to know what to expect the second time around, and exactly how long it would take to get all the way back around. I know it annoyed a lot of runners, and understandably so, but I didn't mind it too much.
4. You know you're living in 2012 when you're running a half marathon and actually recognize a complete stranger from Facebook! I am a "fan" of the Chicago Polar Dash page on Facebook, and I've been visiting it several times a week to get updates on the race. When the originally scheduled Polar Dash was postponed on the 14th due to weather conditions and pushed back to the 21st, some people revolted by posting how they held their own Polar Dashes in their hometowns, despite the fact that the city of Chicago considered the weather conditions "critically unsafe". Two registrants posted a picture of themselves with the homemade snowflake medals that they wore after running 13 miles, and at the actual race yesterday, there was one point where I was running a few steps behind them. I came close to saying hi, but they were having a conversation with each other, and plus, I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of sounding like a total creeper. Anyway, the point is, you know that times have changed tremendously when you can honestly say "Hey, total stranger, I think I know you...from Facebook"!

5. Again, the weather was less than ideal for most runners. It was cold and windy, there were huge puddles of slush (one in particular around mile 10) to jump over, and getting snow flurries right in the eyes wasn't always pleasant. One of my fellow running friends warned me beforehand that my energy gels and water bottles would most likely freeze in my pockets, and while I wasn't totally convinced at first, my Gu gels were definitely hard midway through the race! So, Mrs. Kwit, if you are reading this...I will be sure to pay more attention to your advice next time!

6. As I've mentioned before, it's always so important to listen to your body while running, no matter what. In a previous post, I talked about how the Hot Chocolate 15K in November turned into a nightmare when I had fainting spells and ended up in the ER just hours after crossing the finish line. As runners, we sometimes ignore the water stations or avoid using the bathrooms along the course because we don't want anything to get in the way of our finish times...but ultimately, it just isn't worth it. Maybe someday, I will be a more competitive distance runner and focus on speed work, especially since I aspire to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the time I'm 40. For now, though, I'm just running "for the health of it", as they say. Yesterday was the first time I really just let go of the concerns to beat my last finish time, and sure, I was a little bummed at the end, but I can't remember having as much fun at any of my other marathons. I firmly believe that was the reason why.

7. I love the multi-colored running shoes that I bought at Runner's Soul a few months ago and have used for all but one of every major race I have ever run. Eventually they will wear out, and I'll have to get a new pair, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of them now. I was slightly embarrassed at first, because to put it bluntly, I definitely stand out in those shoes, but it's always fun to get compliments from fellow runners along the course. Many marathoners like to wear something a little loud and unique that makes the event more memorable, whether it's a sparkly tiara, a pink tutu, or funky shoes that glow in the dark. Hey, if it makes completing those miles more bearable, then why not? :)

8. Speaking of ways to make a marathon more bearable, I have just one word for that: DOGS. I would like to personally thank any person with the good sense to walk their little four-legged babies on the grounds where a race is taking place, or even better, to have them on the sidelines. I don't know if everyone would agree with me on that, but to me, there's nothing more uplifting than seeing an adorable puppy in his little jacket and shoes to protect his paws from the ice. If I sound like a complete nutcase right now, I apologize, but I don't know...something about that just always makes me want to run a little harder, no matter how tired I am at that particular moment.

9. When it comes to reaching our goals and doing the things we love in life, I think we can all agree that we couldn't do it without the support of at least one person in our lives...and in most cases, it's more than one person. For me, my entire family has been incredible, but I have found a lot of amazing support from my mom, who travels with me to all my races. She works full time as a kindergarten teacher and could probably think of a hundred things she'd rather be doing on a Saturday morning (like sleeping, for instance), but she is always there for me, and I never forget that. In fact, a fellow running friend who met us at the train station that morning said "You have a wonderful mom", and I couldn't agree more. Having lunch with her downtown after these races is one of my favorite things about all of it. I am grateful for her and all she does to help me continue doing what I love. That's a true mom right there! I am extremely lucky to have the parents I do.

10. Now I'd like to end this posting with yet another quote: "Some people see all the negative things that have happened to them and ask why. Others focus on what they never had and ask why not. Then there are those who realize all they are blessed with and say thank you every day".

Have a great week, everyone! Keep doing what makes you feel happy and healthy, and be sure to thank those who help you along the way!

Question of the Week: How are your New Year's resolutions going? How do you motivate yourself to keep at it after the first few exciting weeks of January have passed?