Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Part of the World: Appearance (Part II)

Previous entries in this series: Appearance (Part I), Eating, A Part of the World, Conquest


It's hard to know where to go from there.

What is natural is not popular. What is popular is not natural. What is popular is not healthy, and does not lead us toward healthy behaviors or healthy attitudes.

And we, as athletes (or, if you don't consider yourself an athlete, health-conscious people), have very special relationships with our bodies. We move more than other people; we're more active. We exercise! Which means we build a degree of kinesthetic awareness and proprioception that is greatly above the norm. In other words, we know our bodies better.

Oddly enough, this doesn't necessarily mean that we love our bodies. In fact, it can mean just the opposite. Instead of seeing the body as a tool, an ally, a friend that allows us to do some remarkable and crazy things, we see it as an enemy. There's too much of it (or not enough). It's too flabby. It's too short. It doesn't look the way it should. So instead of having an exceptionally close relationship with our bodies because we spend so much time one-on-one with them, we end up (in some cases) developing ever-greater animosity towards them.

And this is not okay. This is not living as part of the world.

So what are we to do?

Oh, nothing too big--just completely revamp our perception of what "healthy" and "fit" look like.

It wasn't that long ago that bustles were considered attractive. Or--even better--hoop skirts! The Modern Victorian Woman says, "I don't care that this fashion makes my butt and hips look enormous--I am wearing it!" Similarly, fashionable Victorian men and women cultivated pale skin; tan was the look of peasants, because they were always outside working. Granted, the peasants were probably much healthier than the fashionable aristocrats, but I am trying to make a point here.

And the point is that we (21st century "civilized" people) have made a habit of tricking ourselves into believing that pursuing what is (currently) fashionable is actually healthy.

Look around the health clubs. People are not necessarily helping their bodies, there. They are doing asinine exercises in pursuit of larger pectorals, bigger biceps, flatter abdominals. Why? Because our cultural perception of how a healthy person looks is so screwed up that we equate those things with fitness, capability, wellness.

And it's just bullshit.

On the other end of the spectrum, we do have to take into account that a large segment of the population is carrying too much body fat on its collective frame. Which has led me recently to ask, "Man, what would these people look like if they were lean and toned, the way evolution predisposed them to be?" Really. What might America look like behind the fat?

Man, this point is so hard to make. What I'm saying is that there must be something between this and this, between nausea-inducing obesity and hyper-focused fitness (you know, the kind of fitness that would prefer a six-pack to a stable spine).

I've said it before: the problem of being part of the world is too big for us to tackle all at once (Tyler Durden, are you listening?)--we have to start with ourselves. So although it would be great to try to change America's perception of a "healthy" appearance, why don't you change your own? Stop trying to fit the frickin' mold! If you're anything like me, your genetics will make that impossible anyway. And don't go too far in the other direction; if you're carrying too much weight, you know it, and it needs to come off.

Now assuming you're still with me and you're willing to change your perceptions, here's your practical application (step 1: change perception, step 2: change yourself): let a healthy appearance be a result of your healthy lifestyle. Stop trying to look "healthy." It is not a goal; it is not an end, in and of itself. It is part of the entire package. The clean, healthful eating. The regular, sensible exercise. The meditation. The spiritual pursuit. The enriching relationships. Rather than trying to look healthy and fit, you are healthy and fit! It's a pursuit of being a better, stronger, more capable person. Of being who and what you were meant (either by evolution or by a higher power) to be. Of being part of the world.

Which does not necessitate a six-pack.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Race Report: Turkey Trot


I have been remiss, my friends. I'm behind on blog posts, e-mail, phone calls . . . looking forward to catching up, this week, so if you've been waiting to hear from me, your wait will soon be over.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my first race as a bandit!

I had a friend in town this week (from L.A.), and I didn't really want to take the time to register for the race in person. And $25 seemed a little steep for a 2-mile race anyway. So I elected simply to show up and run as hard as I could for 20 minutes, take advantage of the post-race food if I could, then take off. My dad was also running the race, so that provided extra incentive.

The beginnings of races like these are always interesting, and consist mostly of dodging ankle-biters, who sprint-walk-sprint-walk, and ask their moms, "Are we half-way there?" after 200 yards. But once I got past the knee-height nuisances . . . well, by that time, it was almost over. Really, how much is there to say about a local 2-mile race?

So let me just say that I finished in 17:08 (according to my watch; bandit, remember). My first mile split was 8:14, and my second was 8:54. I probably could have run the second mile harder than I did, but I don't have the sense of pacing at such a short distance, right now. I was pretty happy with how I ran, although my left calf and right rhomboid weren't. The calf especially locked up extra tight (deep, deep in the calf--I think in the soleus, which is underneath the gastrocnemius), so I've been giving it lots of love (read: punishment) on the foam roller and stretching it out constantly. Although the foam rolling treatment basically consists of me sitting with a foam roller under my leg, as the pressure is too intense to put any weight on it.

That's much more than just a race report. Bonus! Keep an eye open for the second part of the Appearance dialogue which Amanda opened on Saturday. Also, I wrote a guest post for Mizfit that she published on Saturday; go read it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Part of the World: Appearance (Part I)

For previous entries in this series, read here and here.

I started to write this post myself.

But then I realized that I don't have a great deal of insight to bring to the subject. Like all western women, I'm conscious of my appearance. There are times when I'd like to change it. I work on "problem areas" (ahem, half-heartedly, because I don't really care). And my feelings about my body probably affect my behaviors and attitudes more than I realize (or would like to admit).

However, for this post, I wanted to invite an author and fellow blogger who has (and does) deal with issues of self-image in a more concrete and immediate way. As a result, we have a wonderful guest post from Amanda, who was kind enough to provide her insight on the matter. Amanda is a dedicated runner, a college student, and an aspiring nutritionist. She also has a great, timely post about Thanksgiving that she posted recently (for you Americans who are staring Turkey Day dead in the face). So visit her and get to know her; she's smart.

By now, you're probably familiar with Mark's Primal Blueprint, and what it means to those of us concerned about how to live in this world.  I think of my body as the part of the Earth that I most directly affect.  I can change it, move it, use it to do things that are good for the Earth.  In that way, it is dynamic.

But it is also static, in the sense that when other people see it at any given time it is like a picture, something at which they have to look, and something that can only look one way at any given time.  And I have never seen any sense in not making it the best picture possible. In this respect, my body is property -- it is my "yard," if you will.

Have you ever passed a (literal) yard that was ugly, unkempt, or simply not aesthetically pleasing?  Overgrown and an eyesore?  Did you judge the yard negatively?  This is what I do not want people to do to me.  Judge me negatively based on my body.  Judge me by my property and how I maintain it.

So when I look down and see that my body does not meet others' expectations or standards (real or perceived), I feel like a failure.  Shouldn't my tummy look the way "a tummy" should?  We all deal in images, in patterns, and if my tummy does not fit the specifications of "a tummy" laid out by society, then it is not "a tummy" any longer.  It is not a "big tummy" or a "tiny tummy," but an eyesore, a failure as a human being, just as something that looks like a field in front of a house is not a field but a gross, unkempt yard.  To me, such a failure is akin to being given a small plot of land (by the Powers that Be, by the Earth, by whatever it is you believe in) and have let it go to waste, to ruin.  Because I do not meet the specifications for "human" laid out by society, I am no longer human.  And that, for me spiritually, is a death sentence.  It is a lack of definition, and without definition or identity, I feel (as many would) that I am nothing compared to what I could be as my best human self, what I believe I was intended to be.

And I realize that my physical appearance, and even my entire physical manifestation inside and out, is just a snapshot of who I am, of my humanity.  So in that respect, I could "cut myself slack" if my property was not the most beautiful -- after all, there are other dimensions of me and of my humanity, right?

But my body is not just my property, or my yard: it is also a tool.  It is both currency and a signal to everyone who sees me.

When my mother used to help me with projects for school, she'd always tell me, "Presentation is everything."  I feel that
he same holds for our physical appearances.  People rarely think "Is she a doctor," or "Is he Catholic?" when seeing a person for the first time.  Observations -- and judgments -- are made based on physical appearance.  If you're pretty and slender, you get things other people don't.  Free drinks.  More opportunities.  Presentation affects the way your teachers, coworkers, boss, love interests, friends, and enemies view you.  If your best friend became goth, what would you think?  Would you view him/her differently?  If your best friend gained 100 pounds, what would you think?  Would you view him/her differently?  These are all physical aspects of your friend, and surely you care about and appreciate the other aspects, but even to you -- who is not judging your friend based on his/her initial appearance, I would be surprised to hear you say that your friend's physical appearance doesn't matter at all or doesn't at least provide you with some new opinions about your friend.  Now, take that same friend -- how would those seeing your friend for the first time judge him or her?

Your physical condition and your presentation says a lot about you, and discrimination against people based on physical traits (including weight) is not news.

Finally, and along the same lines, your physical appearance is also a signal, telling others about -- among other things -- your socioeconomic status, the cleanliness of your lifestyle, your upbringing, profession, religion, age group, sexual preferences, and outside interests and hobbies.  It is an indicator of nearly everything about you, simply because meeting you begins with seeing you, and is the first indicator of you as an entire person (in all your varied dimensions) that other people have.  They have to make initial judgments based on your appearance and do judge based on your appearance.  Racism, sexism, and weightism are just a few of the ways people discriminate and stereotype, simply because humans are pattern-oriented creatures.  And while this says something about humans and humanity and the way we operate, it has definitely been a cause of stress in my life, as my obsession with perfecting my appearance has taken me to the point of anorexia in previous years.  But this is, of course, my human struggle.  Even the classic novel Candide ends with a call to "cultivate our gardens."  So sometimes I much is too much?

Many thanks to Amanda for sharing her ideas and experience. Check back later this week to read my personal opinions (read: Ishmaelian analysis) of the appearance question.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Race Report: Route 66 Half Marathon

I forgot to put up a pre-race post for this race! Well here's what it would have said:

"13.1 miles on Sunday. Longest run since August? 8 miles. But am I nervous? Hell no! Actually, I think I'm in denial."

Or something like that.

This race was a brand new experience for me. I mean, I'd done a half marathon before. Last year, my dad and I did the Wichita Marathon as a two-person relay. So I ran 13.1 miles that time. I was a lot better prepared then, too, and hadn't been fighting injury all season. But this half marathon felt way different from that. I'll explain how in a minute.

Tulsa hosts the Route 66 Marathon, which includes a half, a quarter, and a 5k as well. The mayor of Oklahoma challenged her city to log a million miles of walking and running leading up to the marathon, which doesn't have anything to do with my story, but is pretty encouraging. My parents were kind enough to accompany me; we drove up on Saturday night and settled into our relatively cushy hotel room.

Sunday morning involved a relatively late wake-up call; I didn't have to be up until 6:45! That's way better than your standard 4:00-5:00 triathlon wake up call. Navigating to the race and parking once we got there were ridiculously easy. The race was very well-directed in that respect.

We got to Veterans Park just in time to see the full marathon start at 8:00. I knew that this would be a relatively large race, but I didn't understand just how many people were involved until I watched them all run by. Relative to a race like the LA marathon, or even San Antonio, which was also this weekend, Route 66 was tiny. But I think that this may have been the largest race I've ever been in.

It was certainly the biggest mass start I've ever experienced. We packed into the start corrals, self-seeded (and I think most people did a good job of seeding themselves appropriately). I lined up right behind the 2:15 pacer. I thought to myself, "2:15. I can do 2:15. No matter how I feel, I can do 2:15."

Of course, as soon as the crowd started thinning out, I jetted ahead, running about a 9:30 pace. I figured the 2:15 group would probably catch up to me eventually, at which point I could always hop back in with them. My hope was to pick up the pace again in the last two miles, and finish well ahead of the pace group.

There isn't much to say about those middle miles. The 2:15 group did catch up with me about 1.5 miles in, although I don't know how; I was still running a 9:30 pace, so they must have gone out a little fast, too. At mile 2, there were port-a-potties, and I availed myself of their presence. Of course, while I was in there, I completely lost the 2:15 pace group. I wasn't sure how much farther ahead they were--too far away to see the balloons, at least. I fartleked my way through the next mile (I can't help fartleking when listening to music), and caught the pace group again just a little bit past the 5 k mark.

And there's not much to say about the next 7 miles. The course followed the Arkansas River away from downtown Tulsa on a long out-and-back. The sun was warm and bright; the light had that autumnal quality that makes fall such a wonderful time. The road was completely closed to traffic and littered with a handful of spectators. There were trees lining the lane. It was really a beautiful course. And all this time I was getting to know the few people who remained in my pace group.

The out and back took us through mile 9, and we had about another mile of running through peaceful, pretty neighborhoods. Then, just a little past mile 10, the hills started. And didn't stop.

I got dropped on the first big hill. I got dropped on the second hill. I got dropped on the third hill. Every time, I tried to stick to my own pace, then booked it on the downhills (which is a skill I possess, at least) to catch the group again. We rolled through miles 10 and 11, and I was starting to suffer a little bit. It was getting harder and harder to hang on to my pacers's heels. I just kept telling myself, "2:15 isn't bad. I can run 2:15. I can run 2:15." Knowing that I could hold that pace enabled me to hold that pace, and I kept picking it up to stay with the group, ignoring my heart rate monitor, which was starting to tell me that I was working a little harder than I normally should.

There was a long hill that led us back into downtown Tulsa, and that's where I got dropped for the last time. For the rest of the race (about 1.5 miles to the finish), I kept trying to reel in the pace group again, but I never did. It hurt to let it go; I'd worked hard to stay with it for 12 miles, but in the end it was taking all I had just to keep my feet shuffling along.

I was helped along greatly, that last mile, by one of my favorite songs. To spectators and fellow competitors, it sounded something like this:

"I can't explain all the feelings that you're makin' me feeeel! *pant pant pant* My heart's in overdrive and *pant pant* steering wheeeel *pant pant.*"

No joke. At the top of my lungs. The weird thing is that no one gave me strange looks. No one looked at me at all, really. At that point, we were all focused on our own suffering, on getting ourselves to the finish.

The downside of allowing myself to have such a great time singing was that I paid less and less attention to my running form. At that point, I was so tired that it might not have mattered, but my quads sure took a lot of pounding from the downhills! I noticed at one point how sloppy my running was, and briefly tried to fix it. But then gave up. It was too much work, at that point, and I was almost there.

Coming around the final turn, there was a guy holding a huge sign that said, "SUCK IT UP!" And I really wanted to; I really tried. But by that point, I had so little left that my "kick" was just enough to bring my back to what my pace had been the first mile. Maybe.

Long story short, my time was 2:13:46. Last year, I ran a half marathon in 2:29. That's like a 15-minute PR. And I did it on way less training, with way less pain. And something else extremely significant?

I enjoyed it.

That's right. Before the race, I remember thinking, "Why am I doing this? I don't even like running!" But somewhere around the turn-around for the quarter marathon (when I found, to my surprise, that I wasn't wishing I were running 6.5 miles instead of 13.1), I realized that running actually is enjoyable. Which isn't to say it's easy or even fun all the time. But something about it makes me feel strong and empowered and capable and good. It feels right.

And that's why this marathon was a new experience. It didn't feel like the hardest thing I've ever done. It didn't suck. I didn't spend the last 20-30 minutes thinking, "I am never doing this again." In fact, the race seemed like part of a process; I was excited about this race, because after this one there will be another one. And in that next race, I'll be faster and stronger and better. In short, I couldn't wait to do it again.

So a half marathon no longer seems like a big deal. Which probably means it's time to schedule my first 70.3.

Note: Pictures to come as soon as I find the time to upload them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mark's Daily Apple: 10 Steps to "Primalize" Your Pantry

Remember when I mentioned Mark's Primal Blueprint in the discussion about eating as "part of the world"? Well, what I failed to mention is that though I think his ideas are well-founded and certainly one of the best ways to eat, I don't follow them myself. Haven't fully wanted to commit to it.

Until now.

That's because Mark has broken down getting started in the Primal way to the very basics; consider it a Primal primer, a step-by-step for caveman eating. So if you've been looking for ways to become more a part of the world, go visit Mark for a quick-and-easy guide.

Note to the raw foodists: I longed for such a straightforward, simple guide to stocking my raw pantry during that phase of my life. Get on it, guys!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Podcasting Issue (we hope) Resolved!

It's been a puzzle to everyone (including me): why won't iTunes do what it's supposed to do with my podcasts?

I hope I've cleared the issue up by creating a blog specifically for the purpose of podcasting. You can view that blog here. If you'd like to subscribe to that blog in iTunes, click on the orange button on the upper right part of the page (the Subscribe Now! icon). That will take you to the Feedburner feed, which gives you several options for subscribing.

Or I suppose I could make it really easy and just provide a link here

And it's a long process, but I'll also work on getting the link to the podcast in the iTunes store straightened out. Let me know if things still aren't working!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spinning Workout 27 - Sweatfest

Have I ever mentioned that the middle-aged women of my cycling classes are often uninspired by my musical selections? Um, to the point that they have walked out in the middle of class. "I'm sorry, but I just couldn't take that music!" they say. I don't understand. Muse, Less Than Jake, Yellowcard . . . it's good music!

Anyway, the music of this podcast was all selected from a pool of what I thought my class would accept. So lots of 70's rock, with a few more modern songs that have the same sound and feel.

Now without further ado:

Spinning Workout 27 - Sweatfest
One Way or Another (3:29): Warm up
Gimme Gimme Gimme (4:50): Warm up
White Room (4:57): Terrain track
Born to Run (4:31): Climb
I Believe in a Thing Called Love (3:36): Terrain
Hit me With Your Best Shot (2:51): Spin
More Than A Feeling (4:45): Terrain
Life in the Fast Lane (4:47): Chase
All Right Now (5:34): Terrain w/ big climbs
Dani California (4:40): Spin
25 or 6 to 4 (4:53): Climb
Kyrie (4:26): Cool down
Dream on (4:28): Stretch

Looking for more workouts? Go here!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Part of the World: Eating

For the intro to this series, see here.

Living as a part of the world isn't easy. For one thing, it's not a one-off decision, a one-step process. It took millenia for our human cultures to stray this far from nature; it'll take more than a few months (and a few articles by yours truly) to get back.

A second significant barrier that stands in the way of living as part of the world presents itself when we start looking for how (exactly) we're supposed to do that. My topic for this initial article is eating as part of the world, and for an example of what I mean, read here, here, and here.

See? Everyone has their own idea of what the most natural diet is like. Raw foodists believe that we should eat everything raw, because our most primitive ancestors wouldn't have had the capability of cooking food. Mark's Primal Blueprint advocates eating plenty of meat, because "Grok" would have had to eat meat to fill out his diet through the bare winter months. And fruitarians . . . well, I have to confess that I think fruitarians are a little bit weird. The point is that every one of them claims that their collective lifestyle (because it becomes more than just eating, you know) is the most natural, which is why you should be following it with them!

So what's a neophyte Ishmaelite (Ishmaelist? Ishmaelian?) to do? How do you determine which style of eating is actually the most natural, the closest to the world, and therefore (we suppose) the most beneficial?

Um, I don't think you can.

What you have to do, I think, is determine first what manner of eating is going to make the most sense for you. I, for example, tried to eat raw. It was a mess. I am not going to be able to eat raw all day every day (at least at this point in my life). Nothing wrong with that. You can eat healthy and be healthy without being a raw foodist. Furthermore, there's no reason to assume that you have to agree with one of these pre-fabricated eating plans; you can figure out your own way as you go along.

That said, you need to follow your common sense and your conscience. Common sense should tell you that high fructose corn syrup is not good and natural, no matter what they say. Use your brain (and a little low-key research) to figure out which foods (and food additives, if you must) are naturally-occurring. From there, your conscience takes over. In your heart, do you believe that people really shouldn't be eating animals? Do you prefer only to eat foods that would have been available to your ancestors? Do you draw the line at corn on the cob? Corn meal? Corn syrup? These are questions that need to be addressed individually, according to what you know and what you believe.

In short, I can't tell you how you should eat. What I can do is give you a few broad guidelines as a starting point for eating as part of the world.
  1. Make your own food. You don't want nasty additives (unnecessary sweeteners, flavorings and colorings, preservatives) in your food. You don't want HFCS. You don't want MSG. The best way to ensure that those things are not in your food is to make your food yourself. Come on. This is your first step. Stop buying convenience foods. No more TV dinners. No more 100 calorie bags of snacks. No more spray cheese. No more canned pasta sauce. Do you really need those things? No. Make good, clean food for yourself!
  2. Grow your own food. If you can buy produce, good; if you can buy organic, even better. If you can grow your own, though, that's the best. And you can make it as easy or as extreme as you like. Maybe you keep a few potted herbs on your counter so you don't have to buy dried. Maybe you buy a bison every year, slaughter it, and freeze the meat (I really did know a family that did that). You have options here, you know.
  3. Store your own food. Connect the dots from the last two. You want all-natural applesauce. You happen to have some apples from a tree in your backyard. See where I'm going with this? Canning isn't that difficult!
Sacrifices will have to be made, but you can make them gradually. And you can pick and choose which ones to make. One of the advantages to the advances that we've made, culturally, is that we have consistent availability of a large variety of food. I can eat kiwi. My ancestors wouldn't have eaten kiwi. Grok probably wouldn't have eaten kiwi. But I get to eat kiwi. And you know what? I really like kiwi. So I'm gonna have kiwi, every now and then.

The point of all this "part of the world" stuff isn't to see how tough we can make it on ourselves; it's not an exercise in some survivalist mentality. The overarching purpose is to begin re-submitting ourselves to the laws of nature--those same laws which we've spent years conquering.

Because as long as we willingly choose not to follow the same rules as the rest of the world--exempting ourselves from drought, famine, natural disasters--we won't have a good reason for actively caring for the world. So keep the big picture in mind. What and how you eat is important, but it's about more than simply being healthy.

It's about being part of the world.

Beautiful stock photo by FantasyStock, not me!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Sufferfest: Tri Harder Indoor Cycling Podcasts

DMcQ wrote up a pretty cool review of my podcasts this week. Big thanks to him for the recognition, and for ways in which I can improve my offerings in that regard.

A reminder: if there's something in particular you'd like to work on, let me know! I'm totally willing to put together workouts by request (it's what I do for my classes here at the gym). And if you have ideas for how those podcasts can be better, feel free to leave constructive criticism. I'm tough; I can take it.

(Also, if you know how to do the podcast thing so it will work in iTunes, please help me!)

I'm currently recording the next podcast, so be on the lookout for that within the next week. This one is all about working up a sweat (because that's what my real-life cycling class wanted)!