Monday, September 26, 2011

Between Weeks 2 and 3, Walking with Purpose

As the end of week 2 in my "Couch to 5k" training neared, my sister Ann, called to tell me she'd be picking me up at 8am on Saturday morning.

"Why?" I asked, my voice loaded with hesitation. I already had a rather long to-do list for the weekend scrawled out on the back of a junk mail envelope.

"The Heart Association Walk...?

Then I remembered.

Ann's niece had sent all of us an email about a month ago. She wanted to form a team of walkers - aptly named, "Hawk's Walkers", paying tribute to my brother-in-law, nicknamed "Hawk" who had passed away suddenly in June of a cardiac arrest. Afterwards, we'd all be converging at my sister's house for a family BBQ.

Saturday was supposed to be a non-workout day, but I figured a 3-mile walk would be harmless. And, rumor had it, there'd be free coffee. A win-win.

That morning, it was very chilly and threatened rain. As I watched my older boys dress for cross-country practice, I made a note of what they were wearing - shorts, covered by sweats on the bottom, t-shirts, covered by hoodies on top. Each donned a hat and my oldest even pulled out a pair of knit gloves, but then thought better of it after stepping outside for a moment.

I stood in front of my closet, debating - jeans or work-out stuff?

I called Ann to see what she was wearing. Her reply was cryptic: capris and a top.

I pulled out a pair of warm up pants, a long-sleeved thermal shirt, a sweatshirt and my wind-breaker with a hood - just in case the rain didn't hold off.

By the time we were half-way to the race, I had pulled off the sweatshirt and tossed it into the back seat of my sister's car. The sun was beginning to break through the clouds and the temperature was starting to rise.

Once at the location, we parked the car and made our way to the designated meeting place - a plaza between several high-rise office buildings in a nearby town. The air was pulsing with excitement. Of course, the fact that the DJ had the bass turned up on his sound system helped.

The crowd couldn't have been more diverse - all ages and body types were represented. Heart attack survivors wore bright red caps and made their way between the numerous baby strollers and dogs on leashes.

Once our entire group had assembled, we made our way over to the Tribute tent to fill out big stickers on which we listed the names of those whose memory we were, well, paying tribute to. I let Ann go before me. My eyes started to well up as I saw her bending over the table, marker in hand.

Who would've thought, five short months ago, that we'd be here, doing this. Telling myself to suck it up, I took the marker a volunteer handed me and wrote, "For my brother-in-law, Don".

We then silently slapped them on each other's backs and made our way to the start line.

Passing underneath a bevy of balloons, my sis and I darted out. While most everyone else strolled and chatted, we charged through the crowd with purpose. Mine was to get my heart rate up. Ann said hers was to beat the rest of our team to the finish line so we could make it back to her house before they did. That way, she figured, she could make sure everything was ready for the cookout. Knowing she always kept her place neat as a pin, I wondered if it was because she didn't want to dwell on the reason we were there.

Following her lead, I did my best to keep up with her. Taller than me, her stride left me winded. Unable to converse without running out of breath, I focused on the sights around us.

Along the way, I spotted a little girl dressed in a sparkly pink tutu, a man dressed in a cow suit, a couple with a toddler clinging to their fingers as she tip-toed between them and hundreds of others enjoying the day, raising money for a most-excellent cause.

Somewhere along the way, though, we both lost our stickers. It could've been when we marveled at the golf cart that zoomed past us with a big red heart sitting on the back of it, waving at all of us walkers like a queen does to her subjects.

As we were just about to zip under the finish line, Ann's brother-in-law called to us to stop so he could take our picture. A twenty second pause, tops. We finished the walk at just over 40 minutes.

Hawk would've been proud.

Monday, September 19, 2011

8 Weeks to Go

I am happy to say that I officially survived the first week of the "Couch to 5K" running program. My first two workouts were completed in the company of my mini-coach, a tough as nails 9 year old running veteran. However, because of a play-date conflict, I had to suck it up and complete my last workout alone.

Taking to the well-trafficked nature path near my house, I merged in with the other runners, walkers and bikers, trying to look like I belonged despite my red sweaty face and LaMaze-like panting.

Then it happened.

About a quarter of the way into my workout, I swallowed a bug. Not a big bug. Just one or three of those icky gnats that hover at mouth level. I spent the rest of the time concentrating on not allowing anymore insects into my mouth, nose, ears or eyes. Before I knew it, I was done, walking briskly to my driveway, eager to gargle with some Listerine.

When I told my cross-country runner sons about inadvertently ingesting a bug, instead of getting any sympathy, they smirked and shrugged. Each proceeded to tell me about the time they got stung by a bee and kept running, tripped on a log and ripped open the skin on their knees and hands and kept running, and  felt their eye lashes freezing together in the cold and just kept running.

Cripes. Message received. 

But, between you and me, I'm starting to think that seasoned runners are a little bit crazy.

Note to self - schedule sanity check at end of this program.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9 Weeks and Counting

At work, I've just completed an intense, high-visibility project and the pressure of the past two months has lifted. But, having been glued to my chair for the duration to take care of deadlines and deliverables, the time has come to take care of me.

Seeing as the only exercise I've gotten since my project started involved dashing up and down the stairs for coffee refills, followed by swan-diving onto the couch, exhausted at the end of so many long days, I needed a plan of action - one that would have me up and running in time for the Turkey Trot 5k in November.

Enter the Couch to 5k program, promising it's users the ability to run 3 miles straight without stopping in just nine weeks.

Sedentary to sensational, right? We'll see.

I had read online that the best way to get through the program is to find a buddy. When my husband begged off, my nine year old stepped up.

I was skeptical. I've "run" with him before. He's a whiz and can run circles around me. On the track, he does just that - literally. But he's the most kind-hearted little man I know, oozing encouragement by the bucket full.

The first workout of the first week's first night is this: warm-up for 5 minutes, then jog for 1 minute, walk for 1.5 minutes. Repeat for the next 20 minutes. Cool down with another 5 minute walk. Easy right?

We trekked out just before dusk. Five minutes later, we were at our destination. The full moon was rising and my knees were starting to ache before I even stepped foot on the course.

My mini coach dashed passed me, calling, "C'mon!" over his shoulder.

When he was a full half lap in front of me - about 15 seconds later, he turned to flash me a thumbs-up. As he passed by me on the next go around, between my desperate gasps for air, I could still hear his sweet voice calling out, "Looking good!"

I turned my head, figuring that in the deepening dusk, he must have mistaken me for a sleek, fit athlete.

If I only felt as good as I looked. My lungs felt like they were about to burst into flames and I was already certain that my knees wouldn't let me complete this program without the intervention of an orthopedic surgeon. 

I checked my watch. One minute done. Time to walk. The next minute and a half passed by at warp speed. 

Eighteen and a half minutes later, my coach and I left the track. I was winded, sweaty and red-faced. He looked like he had just hopped off of the couch after enjoying a cartoon marathon.

I can't begrudge him his youthful fitness. But, boy oh boy, 9 weeks from now, I had better be able to keep up with the little squirt.

Stay tuned.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I Rarely Shop Retail

My husband is a self-proclaimed "numbers guy" or, as my Dad likes to mutter under his breath, "a bean counter." Whatever we call him, the accountant to whom I am betrothed keeps our household budget humming like a well-oiled corporation.

We started collaborating on all things money the day after we got engaged.

With our sights set on a lovely wedding reception for 100 of our closet friends and family, followed by a honeymoon in London, we had a lot of saving to do. After opening a joint account, we agreed on an amount to plop in there each pay period. A year later, I handed over a hefty check to the manager of the hall hosting our reception while my fiancé bought our airline tickets and paid for the condo we were renting in Wimbledon.

With that financial goal achieved, the first thing we did after getting home from our honeymoon (ok, maybe the second thing we did) was to set our sights on paying off my hefty student loans while saving for a house.  Each month, my number-nutty spouse would close out the month on our budget as if we were a little company accountable to a couple of very demanding shareholders. Us.

Four years later, we plunked 20% down on a fixer-upper. By then, we had our first two boys and all of the expenses and college savings accounts that go with raising kids.

That was seventeen years ago. We've since added three more boys and my husband still blocks off the last day of the month to reconcile our expenditures and ready the upcoming month. Tedious, I know, but he has kept us on the financial straight and narrow all these years.

The benefits of doing this do not escape me. We are debt-free.

But I wasn't always on board with this plan. Prior to our engagement, I was fond of shopping and paid little over my minimum balance due each month.

While my personal accountant hasn't quite converted me into an avid coupon clipper, I do try to be careful with our cash. I've even sacrificed my appearance for the sake of fiscal responsibility. In my single days, I'd spend a small fortune on my hair (granted, it was the '80's), but now I get it trimmed at Great Clips and my highlights done at a beauty academy.

As for clothes, I've never been much of a fashionista. As a kid, my mom made play clothes for my sisters and I. My twelve years in parochial school left me with a disdain for plaid and anything made with itchy wool.  Once in college, my mother draped me in the latest from Liz Clairborne after which my dad decked me out in Ann Taylor for my post-graduation interviews.

Thankfully, my designer duds saw me through until my wedding. Even then, I found a seamstress to refurbish and retrofit my mother's 1952 Cindrella ball gown of a wedding dress into a modern day vision of Chantilly lace and tulle, poofed up by the hoop skirt I borrowed from my best friend.

A year later, I entered the decade of borrowed jumpers and stretchy pants when I became pregnant with our first child. Ten years and five healthy boys later, I cleared my closet of my maternity tents, uh, frocks and came to the sad conclusion that my padded-shouldered, peplum-waisted designer clothes were woefully passé.

It tried raking through the clearance racks at department stores to restock my wardrobe. I really did.

Not my idea of a good time. The items on those  racks were there for a reason.

Now when my boys were little, a friend tipped me off to a lovely little children's consignment shop that had gently-used "expensive" stuff (Oshkosh, Little Me, Carters) at a fraction of the retail price. I was hooked. The clothes we got at that shop lasted for the duration, even after becoming hand-me-downs for my younger guys.

I started checking around to see if there were any consignment shops for grown-ups and was happy to find a few. Unlike a department store where you can just waltz in, look for something appealing and try to find it in your size, shopping consignment stores - or even places like Goodwill, takes patience and luck. Lots of luck.

It helps if you like the thrill of the hunt when it comes to shopping. I never did until I found my first great buy - a cute white linen Eddie Bauer blouse with the tag still on it. It retailed for $46 dollars. I paid $2.99.

And there you have it. Sure, I still buy my unmentionables at "regular" stores (on sale, of course), but it's not nearly as fun.