Saturday, May 28, 2016

Haters Gonna Hate: A Rant

Here's a little glimpse into my head from March 3, 2014

I'm fat and I'm a little bit angry.

I'm pretty much in love with my body. It can do so much that it couldn't do years ago.  And if I am able to continue what I am doing now for years, it will continue to surprise me and reciprocate the love that I have given it over my lifetime. Sometimes, I get disappointed or angry with it, but like any long-term, committed relationship, it usually comes right back to love and respect.

Also, and thank goodness for this, I didn't grow up in a body-dysmorphic family culture where girls are encouraged not to eat too much, or to worry so much about their appearance that it blocks them from being who they are. I am so thankful for this.

So this post is for all you haters out there. And let me apologize on BEHALF OF YOU to YOUR BODY, for you projecting your own insecurity and feeling of inadequacy on others. I don't typically waste mental energy caring about what other people think of me or other fat people. But sometimes, the hating comes in waves and it has to be dealt with. I don't always have a snarky comeback, but some level of snark is definitely deserved, even if it comes days or weeks later.  Here are some things that people have said to me, either to my face or behind my back, or to others along with some of my actual or imagined responses:

For as much as you work out you should be thinner, don't you think?
No, why?
Because you have some preconceived notion and idea of what it means to be fit and flippin' fabulous?
Because you haven't bothered to get off the couch?
Don't get me started.

You run too much. All you do is run. You run in the woods. You run in the rain. You run in ALASKA. Do you ever think about doing anything else? 
Yeah. Like, I work. I raise my kid (along with my hubby.) I read. I write. I travel. And yeah, I run because I like doing it. Have you not found something that you love doing whenever possible? Something that nourishes you and renews you? No? Sorry but not sorry.

You might wanna stop running so much. For a big girl like you, you may be better off on the elliptical or like, playing tennis.
Why are you so concerned? Last time I checked, getting any exercise is better than getting no exercise. Do you know what's more dangerous on the knees and heart? Not doing anything. And by the way, my joints are just fine. But my brain hurts trying to explain basic shit to you.

Wait. You're black. 
Not this again, and yep, I am.
Guess what black folk? White people don't own the outdoors. No one does, in fact, except for Mother Nature. No one owns your health and well-being, except for you. I'm really sick and tired of black people from ALL socioeconomic strata saying to me or to others who spend considerable time outdoors, "WE don't run in the woods. You know, because of..." Because of WHAT? Have we forgotten who our ancestors were and how they lived?

What part of health are we not understanding? Have you looked around lately and noticed that we are DROPPING LIKE FLIES (and I mean dropping dead) because of heart attacks, complications with diabetes, hypertension, and general obesity related illnesses? So why berate ANYONE who is out there doing their thing, fighting preconceived notions about what it is to be black and to be healthy? Let's get out of this mindset. It's not only hurting us, it's killing us.

Read this for further commentary.

Don't you feel weird going into a gym-you know, cuz everyone's a size zero and you're not?
Thanks for pointing out the obvious. So perceptive of you.
What gym do YOU go to? That apparently is not my gym because although my gym has its share of meat-heads, there are tons of different body types, goals, people, sizes. Dud/ette, get out of your house. And another thing, when I walk into the gym, I OWN IT. I rock those machines. I have a good time and don't EVER worry about haters like you.

Wow, you're really hungry.
Yep. That would be because I just ran 20 miles. What did YOU do today? Right.
Also, I love food, and I'm not going to let you make me feel bad about enjoying and partaking in nourishment. Unlike a lot of people, I don't starve myself to fool people into believing that I care about what they think about my body. Never been a part of who I am, and sorry for you, never will be. Next topic.

And this:

Have you gained weight? 
Let me say this: It is never a good idea, in fact it's downright inappropriate to ask someone IF THEY'VE GAINED WEIGHT unless you're their WEIGHT LOSS SPECIALIST. Or someone who has embarked on a weight-loss mission with them. It is never your right to ask something so personal or potentially devastating no matter what your relationship. And also, comments about what a person eats. Same rules apply. 

You run really slowly
Yep. But have you done a marathon? Yeah, didn't think so. Next comment. (Even if you have run a marathon, why are you concerned about my pace? How does it affect your life? It doesn't, right? Moving on...)

This one was from a woman I sat next too on the Super Shuttle to the cruise terminal in Seattle. We had started up a conversation about what cruises we were doing, etc...

Well, how many marathons have you done? (I have now done 7 marathons and 7 ultras as of May 2016)
Four so far, plus an ultramarathon. I'm hoping to do many more. I really like marathons.

Well I've run over 150 marathons all over the world. You'll get tired of them soon enough. So what else are you doing to lose weight?
Um, I'm not really trying to lose weight. I just love to run.

I really have no comment for this, except for, it made me a little sad.

 One more thing. I'll let the screen-shot speak for itself:

Here's my final commentary to all you haters out there:

There are many of us dealing with the repercussions of a fat-shaming society. We don't need YOU to remind us that we

1) are not an idealized version of what a human is supposed to look like according to unattainable and simply unrealistic beauty/being standards.

2) don't look like the Nike models or the Fit Magazine models when we are working out and doing our thang. We don't care, but why do you care so much?

Just because we're working out, running, or god forbid doing Zumba, it does not mean that we have a problem with our body image. When you allude to that in your thinly veiled criticism masquerading as compliments, it simply means that YOU have a problem with YOUR body image. Get some help.

In the end, we love ourselves and our bodies. Maybe not all of us are fully aware of this, but we do. If we didn't love our bodies, we wouldn't be doing this.

That's all.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Slow And Steady Does NOT Win The Race

Flashback Friday
This was originally posted on September 5, 2011, two years into my running renaissance:

First Marathon: Marine Corps 2011
I'm all about being positive in general (actually, most of my friends would probably disagree heartily), but the old adage "slow and steady wins the race" just ain't true. For me, that is.

For every time someone asks me if I won the race I just did, I should actually get a medal.
I won my age group in one race last year--I was the only one in the age group, but it was an accomplishment nonetheless!

I run at a pace that many very fit people can walk at. Some people might call it a jog but I specifically remember someone, it may be John "The Penguin" Bingham, saying something to the effect of "if it's not a walk, then it's running." I may be grossly oversimplifying what he did or didn't say, but I'm pretty sure he was confident that his own slow pace qualified as running.

I'm not always last, although I tend to be last when the number of participants is under say, a thousand. Yesterday, as I completed the Charm City 20 Miler with an amazing pace of 15:30 (I managed to pump out solid 13 minute miles the first 7 or 8 miles then slowed down MAJORLY after the 14-mile marker), I chatted with myself (internally, that is): I know I'm going to be last and that's OK! No it's not OK to be last. Didn't I pass that girl at mile 5? Did she pass me while I was in the port-a-potty? Really, it doesn't matter if I'm last-at least I'll have finished. I just hate having all those people at the finish waiting for my slow butt! That's what they're there for-for you, silly! But what are they thinking? This fat girl had better hurry, I wanna go home.

I was worried that there wouldn't be any FOOD left after the race. I have a friend (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) who is much faster than I am, so she gets to the finish, picks up a hot dog and Gatorade for me (brats and Zico, if it's a fancy race...), and waits and waits and waits for me. Good thing or I wouldn't get any of the post-race refreshments. At a 10K in Upstate New York last year (a pretty well-known Turkey Trot, that's all I'll say) I was dead last. So last in fact, that as soon as I stepped off the timing mat, they rolled it up, almost tripping me in the the process. And then I walked through the finisher's area. There were no oranges, bananas (except for the very, very green, not-edible-unless-they're-boiled ones), no potato chips, no Fig Newtons, no Nutri-Grain Bars, no anything, except for a couple of liters of Saratoga Springs water. I was so angry, I contemplated taking an entire case. Alas, my car was about a half mile away and it was cold as hell...

There are race organizers who WILL wait for you, however, no matter how long it takes (I know this from personal experience). The NJ Trail Series ( was founded and organized by Rick and Jennifer McNulty, a couple whose goal is to "make running fun again". The first time I went out for one of their events, I DNFed. It was a 10 mile trail run in 2 loops. It took me so long to do the first one that I quit half-way. I distinctly remember Rick asking me if I was going for the second loop-I may have looked at him as though he had three heads (AM I GOING TO DO ANOTHER LOOP SO YOU CAN WAIT ANOTHER HOUR AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES? HA!)-No, I think I'm done. We'll wait, whatever you decide, he said. Wow, I was tempted to do another loop, but the anxiety of having people wait for me in the woods, no less, was too much to bear, so I declined. But, I've learned that they really will wait! One particularly grueling 13.1, I was last by at least 20 minutes from the penultimate person, but they were still out there, watermelon, snacks and all! Thanks, NJ Trail Series- You have made running fun again. Race directors have a lot to learn from you!

So no, I have not won any races, and I don't expect to, EVER. But that's OK by me. I'm not in it to win it-sorry for the cliché but it's true. I have no desire or physical capacity to even try to win--I'm in it for the thrill, the workout, the friends, the running community. And if you don't quite understand, sign-up for a local 5K and see what I'm talking about. You'll get hooked, and you'll only care that you're out there.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Please Leave Your Food Anxieties At The Door

I'd Like To Enjoy My Meal, Please

Original Post: April 13, 2015

Fat person eating in Spain.
About 10 months into our courtship, my then boyfriend and I went out to eat with some friends at the Pink Teacup in New York's West Village. The food was sumptuous--exquisitely prepared macaroni and cheese dripping with grease, collard greens simmered in a smoky broth, and fried catfish. MMMM! And then there was dessert. Bread pudding soaking in something alcoholic. I ordered a slice. And then I ordered another.

My boyfriend noticed this and surreptitiously placed his hand over mine with the intent to stop me from enjoying my dessert.

"It's not too much?"

I don't know if it was the (very) nasty I-WISH-HE-WOULD look I gave him or the fact that I said in a low voice that I was going to eat what I wanted, where I wanted, in front of who I wanted, and when I wanted and don't ever say anything like that to me again that ended that particular conversation. Six months later I married him. That was 15 years ago and to this day he has not made another attempt to ask what he thought was probably an innocent question.

I'd like to note that at this particular juncture in my life, I was running, swimming, working with a personal trainer, living in a fourth floor walk up in the Bronx, walking everywhere, and just being plain active every single day of my life. My then-boy-toy-now-hubby was very, very much aware of this and in fact offered to run with me one morning. But that, my friends, is another story...

I like food. I enjoy eating good, quality food. Whether that food is a salad, or a piece of homemade apple pie with cheddar baked into its crust, or some good ole-fashioned bracciole with pasta and gravy simmered all day on a Sunday, or my mom's crispy baked chicken I'm going to eat it--and that is with or without your approval.

I'm being so bad right now.
Are you really going to eat that?
Aren't you on a diet, though?
I really shouldn't be eating this.
Wow, I'm going to need to run a marathon tomorrow after this meal.
I'll just have half. I mean I really shouldn't even be eating half.
I probably shouldn't eat this.
I'm gonna have to put my fat pants on after this.
I'll just eat this salad and be hungry all effin-day.
You eat too much.


From the personal stories told and showcased on shows like Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, to the less sensational shows such as AE's Heavy, there is always a plethora of "before" pictures in which fat people are "caught" engaging in the ritual and necessary act of eating. The following may be controversial statements. People eat. Skinny people eat. Fat people eat. Fat people, in fact, need to eat too.

So why is there this incredible shame attached to doing what we as humans, as living and breathing animals of this planet? Why do we have this obsession with what others put in their mouths?
Why do people feel the need to sabotage their own food experiences and others'? There are no easy answers here. I think about this on a daily basis--not a day goes by that I don't hear someone engaging in this type of behavior. I  often catch myself doing the same thing.

This is not to negate the existence of the major epidemic of obesity that we are currently dealing with in the US. This is not to deny that fact that we are facing a real problem with the very low quality of food that many people either have to eat or choose to eat. Also, my purpose here is not to ignore the real issues with eating disorders that many men, women, and adolescents have. This is not any of that. The issue here is that negative food talk is so pervasive and omnipresent in our society that it has become normalized. We are accustomed to excoriating ourselves and subsequently projecting our negative and destructive feelings towards food on others. This isn't fair. It is especially unfair for fat people who may already be dealing with compromised self-image.

We have enough of this to deal with. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that many of us who are either overweight/obese/perceived-as-being-abnormal-because-we-have-big-bones-big-thighs-and-big-asses have dealt with, at some point in our lives being looked upon disdainfully when we eat, NO MATTER WHAT WE EAT. Salad? People are judging. Fries? Judging. Chewing gum? Drinking water after a sweaty workout?  Fried chicken? Let's not even go there. 

We have deeply held beliefs that aren't always substantiated by research and science about what constitutes a healthy appearance, lifestyle, diet. Let's deal with the REAL and very complicated root causes of obesity and what causes people to be unhealthily fat (it's not always as simple as calories-in-calories-out, folks.) Let's do this without judgment, without yelling at fat people, without portraying them in reality shows as unwieldy, out of control, and gluttonous; without parading them (us) in front of the world so that everyone can gawk at their profound shame.

Concerned about a friend who eats what you perceive to be an unhealthy diet? This is a dilemma, I admit. Have you considered why a person may be eating what and how they're eating? Have you modeled healthful eating yourself without relentlessly and thoughtlessly forcing your own food values and choices on others? Have you considered WHY you are worried? Have you considered that your concern might actually just be judgment?

But sometimes our concerns are just that, genuine concerns--that we can choose to express carefully, lovingly and respectfully without shaming in the process. Let us stop interrupting our own and others' enjoyment and pleasure in eating and nourishing our bodies and minds.

Live and let eat.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Potato Chips and Eggs

This is my second ever post on the blog from August 10, 2011

Go Daddy Go 5K in 2009. That had on the left would be my boy's.

No, I'm not referring to the actual ingestion of these food items, but to the great advice on form I received during a running program sponsored by The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. This was in 1998, my second flirtation with running regularly. I was working in CORPORATE AMERICA, single, and carefree. One day in the office during an extended "break" in which I would spend much coveted time with the PAPER version of the New York Times. (What is paper? you may be asking yourself...) I happened upon a small ad announcing a free 8-week running class for women that would meet on the Upper East Side. WOW! I had been running on and off around the 1.5 mile loop in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for a couple of months and always looked jealously as the super-runners who would 1. bounce around at a seemingly effortless pace while I lumbered around and 2. subsequently lap me, twice. So this would be a great opportunity to run and to prepare for my very first RACE, the Avon 10K that would take place at the end of the eighth week of the program.

That first day, we convened at the hospital, listened to a panel of seasoned running enthusiasts, former Olympic athletes and sports medicine doctors who talked about the benefits of running. We did a brief aerobic warm-up, stretched and went out for a run on the East River Esplanade. Being a born and bred New Yorker, I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't even known that the Esplanade existed before then. Anyway, they started us out slowly-run to the street lamp, walk to the next one, run past one street lamp YOU CAN DO IT, walk to the next one. This is how it went for the first few weeks. Panel, questions, stretch, run, stretch and snacks-see ya next week.

I looked forward to those Tuesday evenings. The participants in the program were friendly and encouraging as we had all come for the same thing-to be part of something awesome and healthful. I also looked forward to completing the homework they gave us, which was absolutely doable and plain fun. Run 1-2 miles alternating 1 minute of walking with 2 minutes of running. I could do that. I've always been an early riser, so I enjoyed getting up at the crack of dawn, greeting Tony and Maria, the superintendents of my apartment building, crossing the street and running the loop in Van Cortlandt Park. (If you a New York City resident and have not yet experienced the wonders of VCP-GO NOW! You won't be disappointed. The loop is a cinder pathway-so easy on the feet and legs. There is also a wonderful cross country trail that is used on the weekends for high school (and college?) meets, along with an oval track.) So it is absolutely imperative to get your run on in the Bronx.

We did speed workouts, hill workouts. Today the goal is to do ten hills, ok? NO, NOT OKAY. Of course that's just what I was thinking, but I did it, albeit not without a tremendous amount of mental effort. They coached us on form-keep your shoulders relaxed, your elbows at a 90-degree angle pretending that you're holding potato chips (I preferred to imagine the Cape Cod brand) or eggs in each hand. I still abide by this advice today. People may laugh or scoff, but the potato chips have saved my shoulders and neck from muscle soreness. So eat that!

During the 5th week, the crazy people who ran the program thought it would be fun to do a three mile run without stopping for walking. Just to make sure we would do it, they paired some of us slower-I-need-to-walk-now-please runners with trainers. I got a former Olympic discus thrower-GREAT! She ran right behind me, encouraging me the whole way, even up the damned hills and stairs. I worried that I was running too slowly, but she just kept on keeping me on. I finished my first 3 miler without stopping, running with an OLYMPIAN. We even got to meet GRETE WAITZ. I wish I had had more of an appreciation of who she was back then, and how she would help set a precedent for women in the marathon distance. May she rest in peace!

After getting through the first 3 mile hurdle, the next two weeks were 4 and 5 mile runs, respectively. We had one final panel that last week of the program and then they gave us our T-shirts. My first race tee! It's torn in many places, has missing seams, but it's one shirt I will never throw away for obvious reasons. That Saturday we met before the race to give each other final words of encouragement. It was bittersweet; these people (both participants and coaches) had given me the gift of running, camaraderie and personal accomplishment, and I probably wouldn't see them again. The gun went off and we started running. I ran 4 miles without stopping (a first!), and alternately walked and ran the last 2.2. The rest is history. (Well, not really but I'll get to that in future posts...)

Thus began my burgeoning addiction to potato chips, eggs, races and t-shirts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I finally have something to say

This week: I'll re-post some of my original posts on this blog from 2011, the summer that I started training for my first full marathon. It's always interesting to look back, see, and feel the progress.  

This was my very first post.

 August 8, 2011

Funny story about this photo...(2009 Lake Shawnee 5K)
Although I created this blog TWO YEARS ago, this is my first post. I think the primary reason for me not posting was a fear that I didn't have anything useful to say about running, you know, being a bigger gal and all. Before I get into various musings, I'll tell you a bit about myself:

During the summer of 08, I was driving back from Baltimore to Central Jersey (where I live) after a full day of giving piano and voice lessons. Somewhere in PA on Rte 222, I began to have intermittent chest pains-you know, in the cardiac area, and I got scared. Was I dying? Would I make back to Jersey? Was I HAVING A HEART ATTACK? Obviously, that wasn't the case, but I became very nervous during that drive. So nervous in fact that my heart rate became elevated and my breathing became very shallow. I made it back home and immediately called a friend and asked her to take me to the hospital, where I would get 2 EKGs, many blood tests, and an x-ray. The tests showed nothing. No irregularities, nothing except for slightly elevated cholesterol levels. Maybe it's a muscle spasm-the attending physician suggested. But you should go see a cardiologist, ASAP.

To make a long story short, the cardiologist looked me straight in the eye and asked "How old is your son again?" Five. "You wanna be alive when he's older?" No need for an answer. "Lose 15 pounds in the next 2 months". Ok.

It took a couple of months to get on the wagon, but eventually I bought a treadmill and started "running" after a four-year hiatus and an added 60 lbs. My first mile was 17 minutes with a lot of walking. But I persevered, alternately running on campus (I live and work at a boarding school) and using the treadmill. I took out my Yoga Booty Ballet and Tae-Bo videos and started using them, again. I did South Beach Phase 1 several times and signed myself up for several 5Ks. I lost weight, and loved running again.

Signed up for more 5ks, got a good friend involved in my journey-she had her own, too!-and then I was off.

Now, running is sort of an obsession. I subscribe to every single running mag, and look for races everyday on I try to run as much as possible, as frequently as I can. The endorphin high, I can't find anywhere else--maybe except from singing classical music--but not even that, really. My family thinks I'm crazy, but they're CRAZY supportive of me and my fitness endeavors. I still am aiming at losing another 80 pounds so that I can be at a really healthy weight, but I know it will come with patience and perseverance.

I absolutely love the running community, and cherish every time a fellow runner nods his/her head, says hello, yells GOOD JOB sister!, asks HOW MANY MILES TODAY?, or simply establishes eye contact and smiles. I may not be the fittest, thinnest, fastest runner around, but I am a runner.

Now I run just to run and be around runners. This is my blog.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I DID NOT DIE: A Shocking Ending, Tough Mudder Part 4

The last time I encountered live wires (and it wasn’t willingly) was when I was about nine or ten years old. I had just gotten a pink bicycle, complete with those colorful plastic streamers on the handlebars, and training wheels. I was only allowed to ride up and down the block, so that’s what I did for a few hours a day—up to the candy store where the botánica was, down to the end of the block where the shoe store Momo’s used to be, and then up to the candy store again.
One evening I rode too close to the street lamp up the block (whose bottom panel had been removed) and got shocked by the live wires that had made their way out, waiting for some unsuspecting child to walk or ride by. I heard a popping sound, and at the same time the force of the electricity knocked me over completely. The current coursing through my ankle and lower leg hadn’t hurt much but landing fairly hard on the concrete sidewalk, and becoming entangled with my bike did. In any case, I popped up, got back on the bike and continued my ride down the block, newly electrified.
This was exactly the sensation I had the pleasure of experiencing during Electroshock Therapy, the obstacle that would bring me to the much coveted Tough Mudder headband. Only this time, the shock sent me face-planting right into a pool of mud. For some reason I had thought that emerge from EST relatively clean and mud-free after having-slid into 10,000 gallons of ice-water at the previous obstacle, Arctic Enema (which actually did wonders for my left glute cramp and Rebecca’s calf cramp). Nope. The millisecond my right arm brush against the nearest wire, I went face-down into the muck.

We had been told explicitly not to crawl, but FUCK THAT. I didn’t care how long it would take to get through the three consecutive pools of nastiness, I wasn’t touching that shit again. I ended up getting shocked twice more anyway, each time having the wind knocked out of me—hmm, makes you realize how awesome electricity is and makes you wonder how it has the capacity to blow a 245 pound human being over like a dried-out, dead flower. 

Rebecca and I muddy-hugging

After making it through the last mud-pool I was spent. I had exerted so much energy trying to avoid those wires that it was more difficult than I had expected to hurl myself over the last little bump. But then I did. I FINISHED!...VICTORY.  This thing that I had been so afraid of was done! I gave Rebecca a muddy hug, and then gave Coach T. Mud an even muddier hug complete with a big, muddy grin (I felt like that dirty kid from Peanuts...)

I loved it, not every single minute of it, but it was pretty damn close. Even the really difficult and disappointing parts were enjoyable. Why? Because I knew going in that I would not be able to conquer everything that day, but that I would at least try. I knew that I would have opportunities to have at it again, so I was was comforted knowing that these small failures were only preparation for success in the future. Time to reconfigure, time to analyze where I need to build more strength, flexibility. Time to rid myself of fear and self-doubt.
Gear: Merrell Capra Adapt Tights, Merrell Adaptive
Cinch Tank, Merrell All Out Crush Shoes,
Torrid Bra Tank, VSX Incredible Bra. 

As part of my Merrell ambassadorial duties, I get to do even MORE Tough Mudders!!! Just a few months ago, I would have absolutely balked at the idea of even considering doing these crazy obstacle course events, but now I'm kind of curious to see how much I can improve, and how well my body will respond to more training and preparation. So what's next? I'll let you know soon...
See you at the next Mudder (TBA)

Friday, May 20, 2016

It's All In My Head (And In the Training): Tough Mudder Report Part 3

I lost count after seven, but here are some of the more memorable obstacles from Tough Mudder ATL. (Notice the lack of photos-this was due to neither of us having a GoPro (next time, bruh) and starting in a fairly late wave. We've got some fabulous photos of our finish!)
Photo Courtesy of Tough Mudder
Skidmarked, a wall slanted at about a 45 degree angle TOWARDS you was one of the first real walls to climb over. Unless you could jump of your own accord, grab the top and hoist yourself over, you would need help. Another mudder and I hoisted Rebecca up first. I lent a hand or two to others before I asked for help getting myself up.

I asked for help.

This is a fairly new concept for me. I don’t like asking anyone for help until I’m in dire need of it, and often it’s too late. This Tough Mudder thing was an exercise in doing just that, and willingly accepting it early on in the process.

So two people gave me a leg up, and then slowly I was able to lift myself over the wall. I felt like the queen of the world. My arms and legs felt strong. Our training had paid off. Rebecca and I had worked for this, to be able to conquer precisely this.  I climbed down to the tire buffer in the middle of the wall, and jumped down, this time landing successfully on my two feet. Rebecca and I high-fived, helped a few other people over the wall and went on to test our new-found strength and confidence on other obstacles.

Photo Courtesy Of  Tough Mudder
There was the Pyramid Scheme, a slippery wall with nowhere to grip. One had to literally climb on top of and over people to reach slippery, outreached hands at the top. It took me a bit longer to muster up the confidence to use actual human bodies for climbing (like say, toddlers do), but I did it with help from people at the top and bottom. I’m not a crier, but after worrying that after all of everyone’s efforts I still wouldn’t be able to reach the top, I felt enormous relief when I did—and the waterworks were ready and willing to spill without any input from me.

Balls to the WallLiberator, and Chunky Monkey were three obstacles that required superior upper-body strength, excellent grip, and patience with oneself. Although I tried—and it is quite possible that I did NOT leave everything on the field—I did not get over the two walls. At Chunky Monkey, I froze with fear at the top of the platform, knowing that I probably would fall into the water right away. I felt like one ledge-dive was enough for a day but I would be back to test my non-existent prowess at a later date. 
Photo Courtesy of Tough Mudder

The Liberator required you to insert pegs into holes, lift yourself up to the next level of holes with legs on slanted (not in your favor) notches on the side walls, liberating yourself from any traces of hubris. Chunky Monkey was a supersized version of the my childhood monkey bars, only it required swinging from pole to pole using momentum and strength from your hips and core. Rebecca and I were late in practicing our hip taps while hanging, so this will be one to try again, next time!

Balls to the Wall required rope-climbing against a wall, with deceptively helpful knots spaced at intervals just out of reach for simple climbing. This was another obstacle that required teamwork. I attempted it once, took a break to observe other folks, and then tried again, getting a bit higher the second time. I thanked the folks at the top who held on to me as I contemplated trying one more time to swing my body higher. Then I dropped back down. I started to realize that my biggest issue is not necessarily a lack of strength, rather it is not know which muscles to engage and how to engage them. 

I’m looking forward to attempting all three of these again after doing some more work on grip strength, pull-ups, hip flexibility and utilizing momentum to propel myself forward--basically everything!  I’m know that I will do better next time, knocking out some more of these babies, and proving to myself that it really is all in my head (and in the training)! 


Thursday, May 19, 2016

On the Precipice: Rebecca's Tough Mudder (GUEST POST)

My heart pounded in my ears as I looked at the bar a seemingly unfathomable distance away.  I was standing at the top of the rise of the King of Swingers, one of the obstacles I have been dreading the most in the Tough Mudder. I have a HUGE fear of heights, and now I was 12 feet off the ground looking at a foot-wide bar I was supposed to leap out and grab.  It took me a couple of tries, but I sprung out over the abyss......

Hanging/Pull-up Practice
When my hands made contact with the bar, and I felt my solid grip carrying me smoothly through the air, I let loose a rebellious cry that lasted the whole swing.  Even more terrifying was the drop after I let go: I closed my eyes and waited to hit the water.  It felt like forever and I became afraid the water wasn't there: someone had moved it, I was about to hit the ground, I was falling through outer space.
The shock of hitting the water was electrifying, and I suddenly remembered my body and started swimming for the surface.  As I broke through another scream ripped through the air, and language came back to me.  "I can't believe I f**king did that!" was my mantra as I swam for the rope netting to escape.

For me, this was the core of the Tough Mudder experience.  Overcoming my fears, challenging myself when I thought I couldn't do any more, and pushing myself to do as much as I could.  This was not the messiest obstacle, but the ones like it requiring upper body strength were the ones I was most challenged by and made me feel the most powerful when I completed them.

There were many other obstacles, such as the Liberator, where you are climbing a wall with pegs in your hands and notches under your feet, or the affectionately names Balls to the Wall, climbing a wall using a knotted rope, where the amazement at reaching the top was immediately replaced by the anxiety of how to get over and back down again.  The pride and accomplishment once again took over as soon as my determination brought my feet back down to the ground.

A great thing about the Tough Mudder was the sense of camaraderie on the course.  The inspirational speech at the beginning included talk that everyone would be your teammate by the end, and it was very true. Without my teammate Mirna and so many other helpful people on the course, I would not have accomplished half as much.  Strong arms hoisted me over the lip of Everest on my second attempt, I conquered the Pyramid by using someone else's shoulders as a ladder rung, and even Balls to the Wall had a volunteer scrambling (with ease) up the back side to talk me through getting over the top. When I thanked the helpers for their assistance, the reply was, "you got over it because you wanted to."

Wind-sprints practice--up Mirna's driveway hill
The combination of training and teamwork was really amazing.  Mirna and I had been weightlifting and doing various forms of prep since February.  It all came together as I reached for waiting slimy hands to grab to get out of mud pits, but then amazing the same men ready to hoist me out as I set a foot as solidly as possible in the muck and set leg and arm strength in motion to get myself out, with their leverage being the final push.  Each time I felt that much more powerful. Helping others was wonderful as well, knowing my training could help pull someone else up the Pyramid after I had been hoisted to the top, and I was part of the team assisting others to success.

As we ran from obstacle to obstacle, Mirna and I lost all sense of time, living in the moment.  We reflected on what went well, what we would need to work on for our next attempt, and just the beauty of the landscape around us.  We met some that were concerned with their time, some who were painting designs on themselves and their clothes, some who danced or flapped like birds as they traveled, and some who ran Everest multiple times for the thrill, the fun, or to help someone out.

For those who say, "That's crazy! Why on earth would you want to do that?" (especially running through live wires at the end), my answer is this: There are few times I have felt more alive, at peace, and in touch with the amazing things my body can do.  Throughout my life I have struggled with weight fluctuations, body image issues, and overall negativity and self doubt.  The Tough Mudder this weekend, and all the prep that went into it, have brought me a long way on my journey of empowerment and taking control of my life.  I am so proud of all I accomplished, and can't wait to challenge myself again. I want the victory cry as I emerged from the water pit, and the bellow I let loose as I picked myself out of the mud after passing the last 10,000 volt wire, to be the sound my life makes moving forward.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Not the Queen of The Swingers: Tough Mudder Part 2

I got on the ground, assumed a rolling position to protect the ladies,2 and gingerly but ungracefully made my way across the fifteen yards or so of the obstacle. That was easy.

I realized that as long as I didn’t freak out and as long as I didn’t make any stupid jerky movements I would be ok. This sentiment along having successfully hurled my heavy body over the unexpected baby wall at the beginning would set the stage for the entire event.  The obstacles may have been scary or overwhelming to look at, but when I acknowledged my fear, shook its hand and pushed it away, I was mostly able to accomplish whatever task awaited.

There were just about twenty obstacles on the course, and each section it seemed was progressively more difficult and less single-athlete-friendly (although there are a bunch of folks who are absolute superstars at OWNING the obstacles, many of us would require help.. Many would require teamwork to get over, under, or through them).

I won’t bore you with the details of each obstacle, though NONE of the them were boring. In fact, every obstacle had a different challenge. Most were physical, but there were certainly some in which you had to engage your brain, letting go of whatever self-doubts were holding you back, and then use your physicality to succeed.

Out of 20 obstacles, I managed to completely skip only two obstacles; I was not able to complete four of them, but I tried earnestly to do so and will keep trying until I am able to master each and every one of them. 

NOT The Queen of the Swingers: The one obstacle that gave me nightmares....

What I had been most afraid of was the King of the Swingers. I have no problems with height. I also have no problem with swimming. But jumping off a 12 foot high platform with murky water at the bottom and having to simultaneously grab onto a swing seemed impossible, and well…scary. I’ve NEVER dived off of anything. I love swimming. I adore water. Heck, I’m always the one they had to force out of the water during family trips to Rockaway Beach in NY. I love water that much. And heights? We’re best friends. I love being on top of a cliff, or or knob or ledge leaning over, looking death straight in its eyes. But something about the combination of the two gave me very vivid, anxiety dreams leading up to when I was actually standing on the platform waiting my turn. Is there a logic statement that makes sense for this? If p and q then z? If q then not p then r but not r or p then k? I dunno.

One woman approached the ledge, took a few breaths and decided not to do it. I can’t do this, I just can’t. Her team tried desperately to encourage her, gently but insistently. She declined their valiant efforts.

Would that me, I asked myself? Will that be me too? Highly possible.

When fear and anxiety take over, I morph into this quiet, laser-focused, person.  
It was my turn. I thought about letting the guy manning the obstacle at the top keep counting the others in until I was ready. But then he said, possibly sensing my incredible angst, look at the swing, don’t look down, and jump. Your instinct will take over.

I bent my knees a little and tamped down the rest of any errant fears that remained. I jumped. I don’t remember being in the air or hitting the water, but I do recall vividly being underwater for a few seconds, wondering if I was dying, then forcing myself to relax completely.

I didn’t know which way was up, but hoped that my body would know which way to float. Eventually, I broke the surface of the water and doggie-paddled tentatively as my heart rate slowed down, and then freestyled it over to the other side. I coughed, having swallowed some water, but I was not dead. I did not die.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

That Escalated Quickly: Tough Mudder ATL Part 1

Morning preparations for the the BIG DAY at the hotel. I ended up not using the hydration pack or the Tailwind. 

After arriving at Mudder Village, a bustling but temporary town of crazy folk, some of whom where inexplicably dirty and zombie-like, Rebecca and I signed in, handed in our death waivers, and picked up our permission-to-imbibe wristbands, we settled in for a bit at the Merrell tent and chatted with shoe and product geniuses Eric and Jon. Nervous energy coursed through our entire bodies. Neither Rebecca nor I could believe that we were actually there, about to begin what had seemed impossible and highly loony just a few months ago. 

Before we set out for the warm-up zone to hang with Coach T. Mud, we caught up with Melissa from Tough Mudder Headquarters (TMHQ) for some live streaming. Catch me and Rebecca from 2:52-8:24

After our live streaming we headed over to Coach T. Mud's warm up zone, where he energetically took us through some dynamic stretches and movements including butt kicks, arm circles,  his signature HIP GYRATIONS, for, um flexibility.  

And then we moved on to the start area, ever so close to dying (or so I thought).

Well, that escalated quickly, like LITERALLY.

This was the first thought in my head was this after we had finished listening to the gorgeous tall, dark, and handsome solider deliver his pre-Tough-Mudder-experience motivational words of wisdom in an authoritative but soothing baritone to this squirming and excitable group of adults. We were of all sizes and shades, in all manner of athletic attire--and after standing up, putting our trembling hands over our hearts, saluting the American flag and singing the Star-Spangled Banner in a key that was too low but too high, we were off!

Driving into Mudder Village
The first not-even-official obstacle required hurling oneself over a wall. I panicked for a few seconds until my training buddy and only other team member, Rebecca, pointed out that there was a shorter wall, with pegs nailed into it to facilitate climbing. 

WHEW. Oh, I got this.

I climbed over the wall, which stood about 6 feet high, and promptly fell, body-slamming heavily into the (thankfully) deep bed of wood-chips on the other side. I popped up immediately. 
All clean and nice-smelling beforehand

I'm okay. I'm okay! 

Then Rebecca and I were off for real.

We quickly entered the forest on the property of Bouckaert Farms, a fancy horseback-riding outfit with stalls cleaner than any room in my house.  We decided to keep an easy pace, even though we were experienced long-distance runners with many hundreds of miles on our legs. We expected the obstacles to eventually tire us out and sowanted to make sure we had enough left in the tank for those that would require not only mental energy, but huge bursts of physical strength. 

The weather was perfect--the day was sunny and stunning. This property, in the midst of one of the more beautiful areas in Fulton County, was well maintained and groomed, with just the right amount of horse-farm whimsy to keep us on our toes. The trails were pristine, well-trodden, and surrounded by trees in the throes of mid-spring renaissance. We ran and hiked up hills for about a mile until we reached our first official obstacle.

I decided at this point that there was no way in hell I would try to remain unsullied by the mud, because I knew that if there was one thing to worry about, it wasn’t getting dirty. I’m used to dirt, mud, falling, slipping, and losing my balance multiple times during trail races—so this was not new to me (and besides I had already had my first fall). What was new, however, was having to travel under a low-lying sheet of barbed wire that left very little room for mistakes. And when was the last time I’d had a tetanus shot? Hmmm—don’t remember. Don’t mess this one up, Mirna. Don't fucking mess up.

Monday, May 16, 2016


The next few posts will be about TOUGH MUDDER!!!! I finished my first TM in Atlanta last weekend and I'm so stoked to be part of the Tough Mudder Legion. Can't wait for my next one!

This whole Tough Mudder business began in Mid February when I was asked by the folks at Merrell if I had any interest in doing one. I said "Yeah, sure" faster than my brain could stop the foolishness of my mouth (believe it or not, sometimes that happens...I know, right?)

 Turns out I made a pretty fantastic choice.
Hanging with Coach T Mud in Piedmont Park, Atlanta for the Tough Mudder Training event in March
A few months ago I had an enormous opportunity as a Merrell Global Ambassador to get COACHIFIED by Kyle Railton, AKA Coach T. Mud. Not only is Kyle the amazing motivator and face of Tough Mudder (what with his signature tight 80s ladies shorts, stacked TM headbands and hard-as -a-rock sculpted legs (and arms and everything else), but he is a gem of a human being who truly believes in the spirit of working steadily towards a goal, working as a team, and engaging in general badassery on a daily basis. I had a blast (albeit a DOMS blast) having him train me on already tired legs and arms for my first Tough Mudder. Here is the full length video from our Coachified session!

Stay tuned  this week for more on my spectacular experience!