Something’s … different.  It may not be tens of pounds lost: it’s the lift in my step; the natural pace faster.   I pull out my reading glasses to scrutinize nutrition labels; shun the old comfort food standbys after learning, say, that the average tuna salad sandwich is about 600 calories.  On the library shelf and on the store’s magazine rack my eye is caught by health themes; better workouts, more flexibility.  Something’s changed.

I’m annoyed when I can’t make it to the gym and be with friends trying to improve their health; chat about the upcoming 5K.  I’m frustrated if I can’t bike or swim or walk.   While waiting in line I sometimes stretch my hamstrings, unthinking.  Roll my shoulders.  I can feel the tightness in my calves if I sit for too long.

I threw out those old baggy pants that never looked good, even when they fit.  I scrutinize the mirror before going out: I haven’t looked at the mirror, really, honestly, in years.   I’m restless when sitting still, watching TV. I’ve changed.

Thanks to all who make me itchy and antsy and pacey and stretchy and yearning for a movier me.


Gym membership and Summer Go Hand in Hand

I just enjoyed this past week swimming at the local beach, power walking the SUNY campus roads and taking long bike rides.  Why belong to a gym when there are so many easy, free outdoor activities?  Quickly looking at the calendar year and the human brain will explain why I’m taking advantage of the gorgeous summer days while keeping my gym membership.

A quick seasonal gallop through Long Island starts with a Spring that fights and finally wins over winter, but not until about mid-April, then blooms in May and just about all of June.  July and August raise the temperature and humidity and the frequency of thunderstorms.  We are a Testy, Muggy, Mosquito Buggy place.  We wheeze up the air conditioner and huddle inside, avoiding the 97+ degree heat with 90% humidity.  We can venture to the beach now but crowds swarm the public beaches and the horse flies are impervious to anything other than a gun.  Autumn breezes in and we reclaim the road and water and then the real Fall starts creeping in, arguing with the temperature, causes lots of rain and beating Summer out .  The roads become treacherous for bikes with the rain, leaves, and school bus and college traffic; and then winter.  There’s a window of about 3 summer months and 2 Fall months where Life is Perfect.  That means there are 7 months of Life Being Imperfect.  Then there’s that little thing called willpower.

We can’t help it, dear as we are.  We are looking for any excuse to avoid what’s good for us; human nature.  With the ratio of capricious weather outweighing the good and you realize you need that gym.  It is the chain that links the lifestyle picture together, visiting with your gym-buddies on off-weather days, learning what they’re doing outside the gym for fun.  Maybe you learn about a 5K or chat with someone’s who’s training for an Iron Man.  It is your gym connections that keep you not only going to the gym but also enjoying exercise outside the gym.

So live it up: swim and bike and kayak and run and walk the dog.  When a rainy day or muggy day or too-many-kids-on-the-beach day arises, hit the gym.  Your personal trainer brings motivation and success if prepping to ramp up for any sport.  The Yoga, Zoomba and Boot Camp classes keep you connected to your fellow travelers; keep you going.  Keep it going by keeping connected: that’s the key to success.

Rain and thunderstorms: To 5K or NOT to 5K …. hmmm…

Lightning warnings run throughout the early morning in past noon.  The road’s already slick with last night’s downpour and the silt of fallen leaves, pollen and whatall.  Having fallen on slippery, hilly, LI north shore roads in the past with scrapery, knee-ish results, I am fall-shy.  So I decided this morning notto run in a 5K.

I LOVE the 5K’s because they push me along; make me chug faster, I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can, red faced and out of breath I enjoy crossing that finish line, even if I’m almost last.

My ever practical spouse asked me, “Why don’t you train for these races? Try to improve your time?”  Oddly enough, I never thought of training or improving.  I was just trying to get out there and do it, Get-er-done.  The track, which is less than five minutes away, could be a great option.

I’ve got to do SOMETHING – something for one hour at least- so this is the mindset – either bike, walk, run, swim or go to the gym.

What a turn around from doing… well… nothing.  So when it rains, you can still pour – pour on the sweat – somewhere.

The journey from No to Yes

I didn’t want to, to leave the cool interior on this muggy day; to climb into a muggy old car with no A/C to swim in the late-May Long Island sound.  I definitely didn’t want to go alone; no friend or co-swimmer or cheerleader.  What if I just went out on my deck and just brought the bathing suit in?  What if I just put it on?  What if I just got into my car and drove to the beach, that’s all?  What if I just walked into the water, freezing, freezing!  I swore a whispering curse, looking at the children playing and staying on the beach because the water was too cold and choppy with wild evening breezes.  Two lone swimmers; triathlon women were finishing up their strokes.  One pointed out the one mile distance – I nodded – scary – eventually? Do-able.  What if I just dunked my head – oh!  Maybe just one or two strokes – that’s it.  I managed to do about a quarter mile with many breaks, back strokes, panting; easier going in the tidal pull down the beach – rough going, with a strong wind, current holding me back on the return.  Now, how did I feel?  How would I have felt if I hadn’t gone?

The First Step is the Coldest

American’s health stagnation parallels increasing TV channels and wireless access.  Our brains accept the illusion of watching action packed sports and drama while actually doing nothing but sitting.  We’re idling from a never ending chair position to permanent rest position.  For six months I’ve given food and activity a gentle look, joined a gym, cut back on bad foods, but have remained kind to myself, afraid I’d quit if I got over zealous: isn’t that what always happens with exercise plans and diets?  Then I attended a wake for a 48 year old over sitter and over eater.  He was a good man in denial and part of his legacy was to alter my ambition.

I’m an overweight-56-year-old-knee-aching-women who’s ‘let it go’ for about, oh 23 years.  My goal is to “compete” (translation complete) an Iron Lady triathlon; a 600 meter swim, 30 mile bike ride and a 5K run.  Compared with many 60-85 year olds signing up for the grueling Iron Man; 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon 26.2-mile run this is a reasonable goal.  I’m allowing two years of training: that’s how out of shape I am, but it may take less.  Who knows?

The long swim is the most daunting to me:  I’ve run/walked a few 5Ks and I’m thinking, how bad can a 30 mile bike ride be?  You’re sitting on a seat – isn’t that what Americans do best these days?  So slowly building up my swim strength was Challenge One. I headed to West Meadow Beach on Memorial Day Monday with the proper swimsuit and hoping for a water temperature out of the Titanic range.

The north shore of Long Island is continental rocks left by a state-sized glacier cruising past 60,000 years ago leaving debris before its final surf in the Atlantic .  Soft toe squishing sand is not the experience.  Barnacled stones of multifarious sizes welcome your virgin soles.  You can choose to pick and pinch and stumble your way to a dip or you can wear water shoes.  Long Island dates Spring for about two weeks, followed by breath catching heat and humidity and air condition repairs.  The deceit is the water hasn’t caught up with the air temperature.  You’re sweaty and psyched and naïve as you get into your steamy car and head out to the beach.

There are two public bathing rules if you’re fat to limit ridicule and humiliation.

a)      Show as little flesh as possible while not wearing what looks like a short dress, which adds more smirks than less.

b)      Don’t make eye contact with anyone until you get into the water and up to your neck.  There’s an equalizing effect when just your head  peeks above the water: people aren’t as judgmental; less likely to turn their eyes elsewhere.   I suppose this is true for ‘little people’, amputees, and others whose bodies don’t fit the perfect pleasing public bathing criteria.

I followed the above fat girl beach rules then scanned the rockscape to get an idea of the water temperature.  None of the children were deeper than a few inches; a chilling foreshadow.  Less than a handful of beachers were in up to their knees or over.  My lips tightened with determination as I threw down my beach bag, modestly removed my over dress and marched into battle.

The water was actually not bad the first few inches and then the cold hit, a stunning undercurrent of winter memory under the relative warmth of the top of the water.  As a child I was always the first one in: as the youngest of five this was the only competition I could win in the family.  Now it was challenging to put one leg in front of the other.

There are certain blocks of immersion:  first you’ve got to get up to your knees and for some reason that is never the hard part.  Knees to just below the waist brings the commitment and realization you are going to have to dunk your head in that ice bucket.  The journey from waist to shoulder begins with the splash thing where you take a teaspoon of water and splash it on your neck and upper arms to prepare them, telling them this is what you’re going to plunge into.  Then the millisecond baptismal dunk, a head blessing that forces an involuntary “Yaio!”.  Finally accepting your fate you brave a little crawl. After a few minutes you wonder, why aren’t their more people swimming?

I did a lot of floating, back stroking and standing in between the stroke-stroke-stroke-stroke-blowout/breath! Eventually I’ll need to figure out what 600 meters looks like on West Meadow Beach and in the University Pool.  For now I need to be able to go a few feet without getting winded.  I made sure my feet could touch the entire time, in case Something Bad happened.

“Hey!  This isn’t impossible,” I said back in the now wetter steaming car.  The bonus was I was cool enough into the evening: the reward of a chilling dunk.